Weighted Student Formula Yearbook
April 29, 2009
This hefty publication from the Reason Foundation makes an important contribution to our understanding of weighted student formulas (or WSF, a.k.a. weighted student funding or student-based budgeting). Under WSF, generally speaking, education dollars follow students via formulae that take into account such factors as socioeconomic status, learning disabilities, English language skills, etc. and spending decisions are decentralized down to the school level (usually to the principal). Fordham's 2006 Fund the Child manifesto describes these principles in some depth, but the Yearbook is the first comprehensive examination of the 14 school districts currently using versions of WSF. Most useful is a checklist of ten "School Empowerment Benchmarks" to describe how WSF is being used in each locale, including fund allocation, principal autonomy, and school choice. (New York City and Hartford, CT have all ten elements; none of the 14 has fewer than six.) If there's one lesson to be learned, it's that WSF varies widely from place to place. For example, only NYC, Hartford, and Oakland have managed the difficult feat of using actual (instead of average) teacher salaries in their budgets; this is an important way of addressing school-level resource inequities. (And NYC is using a complicated method to phase this in since existing teachers are grandfathered in.) Other interesting differences: Baltimore and NYC weight funding based in part on individual student achievement at the point when they enter a school; Houston includes a "mobility" factor to support schools with transient populations; and Oakland eschews weights by student type in favor of weights by grade level and relies on categorical funds like Title I to provide additional support for poor students (of which Oakland has many). Perhaps a future version of the Yearbook benchmarks could identify the types of weights and mention the extent of the program (some cities are full-fledged, others are just piloting WSF). But the current version of the benchmarks offers useful lessons on how WSF can be applied in other districts and on the state level (something we've encouraged in Ohio) and provides a detailed explanation of the history and status of this important reform in all 14 districts. It's available online, here.
Note: This Short Review has been changed to reflect a small correction since publication.