Education] shall use the most recent population data, including data on children living in poverty, that are available and satisfactory to the Secretary” (20 U.S.C., Ch. 33, Subchapter II, Section 1411(a)).

Even when a data source is clearly specified in legislation (such as the CPS in the SCHIP example) the actual estimates from that source will be affected by survey design and procedures. These factors are largely determined by the program agency and the agency responsible for collecting the data, subject to budgetary constraints. For example, to reduce the high sampling variability of CPS state-specific estimates of uninsured low-income children, starting with FY 2000 Congress provided an annual appropriation of $10 million to increase the sizes of the relevant samples.

For the Title I education program, Congress has given the U.S. Department of Education considerable flexibility in deciding on data sources. Prior to the mid-1990s, estimates of the number of poor school-age children by state were required by law to be taken from the most recent decennial census.1 By the end of each decade, these estimates could be seriously deficient as a basis for estimating the current distribution of need. The Improving America’s Schools Act, passed in 1994, called for the use of updated Census Bureau estimates of poor school-age children to allocate Title I funds, provided the estimates were found to be sufficiently reliable by a panel of the National Research Council (NRC). In response to the 1994 act, the Census Bureau established a small-area income and poverty estimates (SAIPE) program to develop estimates by state, county, and ultimately by school district, using a model-based approach that combined data from the decennial census, the CPS, and administrative records. With review and eventual advice from the NRC Panel on Estimates of Poverty for Small Geographic Areas, these estimates were adopted for use in allocating Title I funds (National Research Council, 2000).

As noted in Chapter 1, for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program Congress defined the program objectives in legislation and left it to the agency to develop the allocation formula. Thus, the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was responsible for determining what data sources and procedures should be used to estimate formula components.


For fiscal years 1979 to 1987, one-half of the excess over the fiscal year 1979 appropriation was allocated to states on the basis of data from the 1976 Survey of Income and Education.

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