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, creates a series of “best practices” that other districts and states can follow to improve the quality of their schools.
“To make schools more responsive and accountable to parents and students we need to stop wasting money in central and district offices and get the money flowing directly into classrooms,” said Lisa Snell, author of the Weighted Student Formula Yearbook and director of education at Reason Foundation. “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 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. And across the Bay, Oakland has produced the largest four-year gain among large urban districts on California’s standardized tests 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 Weighted Student Formula Yearbook identifies key principles that improve educational outcomes as well as the transparency and accountability of our schools:
1. Funding should follow the child to the public school of their choice;
2. Per student funding should vary based on a child’s educational needs, with special education students and others receiving larger amounts;
3. Funding should arrive at individual schools in real dollars, not in numbers of teaching positions or staffing ratios.
The experience with weighted student formula also shows that one of the most important factors in the success of schools is decentralized decision-making. As such, Snell finds principals should have autonomy over their budgets and hiring teachers. This local 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,” said Snell.
Weighted Student Formula Yearbook Online
Lisa Snell blogs on education issues at Reason's Out of Control Policy Blog.
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Lisa Snell, Director of Education, Reason Foundation, (951) 218-1171
Chris Mitchell, Director of Communications, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109