The University of Iowa

Federal Title I Funding for Students who Struggle with Literacy

Teacher with students using tablets

Funding allocated through the federal Title I program positively effects literacy instruction in a number of ways, such as purchasing new instructional technology.


Sean Thompson

Communications Specialist, Iowa Reading Research Center

Posted on: March 6, 2018

For more than 50 years, federal Title I funds have been allocated to schools and districts with the aim of improving educational opportunities for children in poverty. Schools in the United States operate using primarily state and local dollars, but Title I expenditures remain the largest of any federal school funding initiative. Because of these factors, Title I is an important source of support for literacy instruction in many schools across the state and nationwide.

What is Title I?

Title I originated from the 1965 passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which has been renamed several times, most recently in 2015 as the Every Student Succeeds Act) and is meant to equalize the educational experiences of all students. In recent years, approximately $13-16 billion of Title I funding has been distributed annually to states and school districts. As demonstrated in Figure 1 below (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015) which looks ahead to the appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020, almost all of the funds have been for improving basic programs at schools that serve children from low-income families. Other portions of Title I funding are designated for state assessment grants, migratory or homeless children, and children in state-run institutions. 

Figure 1. Title I Funds by Part for Fiscal Year 2020
Figure 1. Title I Funds by Part for Fiscal Year 2020

How Do Schools Use Title I Funds?

School districts use enrollment in free and reduced lunch programs to calculate the percentage of low-income families they serve, and this is the same measure by which Title I money is distributed. Schools with less than 40% of families considered low-income receive “targeted” grants, with funding focused on students at risk for not meeting state standards. Schools may spend targeted grants on professional development, technology, extended day services, summer programs, and academic instructional staff. Those expenditures often end up benefiting literacy instruction directly. School districts must conduct evaluations of schools and programs supported by Title I to assess needs, improve instruction, monitor progress, and increase caregiver participation.

Schools with greater than 40% of families considered low-income are qualified to apply funding to school-wide programming. Most school districts in Iowa qualify for some form of Title I funding, and approximately 60% qualify to spend the funding on school-wide programs, which carries the following additional accountability requirements (Iowa Department of Education, 2016):

  • Comprehensive needs assessment of the entire school
  • Coordination and integration with federal, state and local services
  • Strategies and opportunities for all children to meet challenging state standards
  • Methods and instruction to strengthen the academic program in the school, increase the amount and quality of learning, and provide accelerated curriculum and enrichment activities
  • Strategies focusing on at-risk students
    • Social emotional education
    • Preschool transition planning and post-secondary opportunities
    • School-wide tiered behavioral supports
    • Professional development related to achievement and teacher attrition
  • Parent and family engagement
  • Consolidated programs to address nutrition, housing, Head Start, adult literacy, and homeless education
  • Monitoring and revisions of school-wide plans
  • Dual or concurrent enrollment programs (required for secondary schools)

Districts often decide to meet these requirements by spending the funds on literacy initiatives because improvement of students’ reading and writing skills is at the core of reaching the desired outcomes.

Other Ways Title I Funds Benefit Literacy Instruction

Title I funds may not be used for educational activities that would normally be funded by local or state tax dollars, but they may supplement the programming that is typically provided (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). Because Title I dollars typically support literacy and math instruction and intervention services, the funding often supplements the services provided to students who may be referred to special education.

Funding from Title I Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act is frequently invested in programming to support students in meeting rigorous state standards for literacy. Title I dollars may support specialized reading instruction for students who require more intensive instruction in smaller group settings. Alternatively, some schools may use Title I funding for broader literacy initiatives as part of a comprehensive school reform strategy. In total, Title I funding allows federal dollars to supplement state and local dollars so that students from low-income families are better prepared to succeed in high school and beyond.

What began as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s initiative to improve the lives of families in poverty has evolved into the largest federal endeavor to equalize allocation of resources among schools with low-income families. Along the way toward that laudable goal, educators are receiving literacy professional development, computers are being updated with new literacy software and assistive technology, and structured summer reading programs are being implemented. By way of these efforts as well as others, Title I funding is a big support for best practices in literacy instruction.


Iowa Department of Education. (2016). Title I program: schoolwide operating programs. Retrieved from

National Conference of State Legislatures. (2015). Summary of the every student succeeds act: Legislation reauthorizing the elementary and secondary education act [Press release]. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. (2009). Implementing RTI using Title I, Title III, and CEIS funds: Key issues for decision-makers. Retrieved from