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Reason Foundation's New Weighted Student Formula Yearbook

Lisa Snell
April 30, 2009, 3:00pm

Much of our education funding is wasted on bureaucracy. The money never actually makes it into the classroom in the form of books, computers, supplies, or even salaries for better teachers. Weighted student formula changes that. Using weighted student formula’s decentralized system, education funds are attached to each student and the students can take that money directly to the public school of their choice.

At least 15 major school districts have moved to this system of backpack funding.  Reason Foundation's new Weighted Student Formula Yearbook examines how the budgeting system is being implemented in each of these places and, based on the real-world data, offers a series of “best practices” that other districts and states can follow to improve the quality of their schools.

In places where parents have school choice and districts empower their principals and teachers we are seeing increased learning and better test scores. The results from districts using student-based funding are very promising.  Prior to 2008, less than half of Hartford, Connecticut’s education money made it to the classroom. Now, over 70 percent makes it there. As a result, the district’s schools posted the largest gains, over three times the average increase, on the state’s Mastery Tests in 2007-08.

San Francisco Unified School District has outperformed the comparable large school districts on the California Standards Tests for seven straight years. A greater percentage of San Francisco Unified students graduate from high school than almost any other large urban public school system in the country.

Oakland has produced the largest four-year gain among large urban districts on California’s Academic Performance Index since implementing results-based budgeting in 2004.

In 2008, Baltimore City Schools faced a $76.9 million budget shortfall. But Superintendent Andres Alonso instituted weighted student formula. He identified $165 million in budget cuts at the central office to eliminate the deficit and redistributed approximately $88 million in central office funds to the schools. By the 2010 school year, Alonso will have cut 489 non-essential teaching jobs from the central office, redirecting 80 percent of the district’s operating budget to schools.

The experience with weighted student formula also shows that one of the most important factors in the success of schools is decentralized decision-making. Principals should have autonomy over their budgets and control the hiring of teachers for their schools. This flexibility allows principals to tailor their schools to best fit the needs of their students.  Eliminating the top-down bureaucracy lets principals and teachers focus on teaching.

Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2009 (Full Study .pdf)
Weighted Student Formula Overview (.pdf)
Weighted Student Formula Best Practices (.pdf)

Weighted Student Formula Case Studies Excerpted from the Yearbook:

Baltimore Public Schools (.pdf)
Belmont Pilot Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District (.pdf)
Boston Pilot Schools (.pdf)
Chicago Public Schools—Renaissance 2010 Schools (.pdf)
Cincinnati Public Schools (.pdf)
Clark County School District (Las Vegas) (.pdf)
Denver Public Schools (.pdf)
Hartford Public Schools (.pdf)
State of Hawaii (.pdf)
Houston Independent School District (.pdf)
New York City Department of Education (.pdf)
Oakland Unified School District (.pdf)
Poudre School District (Fort Collins, Colorado) (.pdf)
Saint Paul Public Schools (Minnesota) (.pdf)
San Francisco Unified School District (.pdf)

Reason Foundation's Education Research


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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