Grappling with weighted student funding in a billion-dollar ed. plan

The State Board of Education will vote next week on a new method of allocating and spending education dollars as well as a call to boost state K-12 spending by $1 billion.

The ideas are major recommendations of the board's school-funding subcommittee. Their report, An Integrated Approach to School Funding in Ohio, is the result of two years of hard work by board members and education department staff to develop recommendations for improving how Ohio finances public education.

Most notably, the report moves toward proposing a system of Weighted Student Funding (WSF). WSF enjoys bi-partisan support as a fair way to allocate education dollars (see Fordham's Fund the Child report here), and it gets a thumbs-up from educators who use it (see here). WSF rests on a handful of principles: school-funding must be transparent; funding must be based on students' educational needs; funding must be portable and follow a child to the building level and move with the child when he or she changes schools; and educators at the school level must be empowered to allocate resources as they see fit to meet individual student needs (see here).

The subcommittee's report calls for adopting weights for students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students, and gifted students. And, it does the tough job of recommending what those weights should be, defining eligibility, and estimating the cost. The report also recommends that Ohio build a better system to track building-level needs and spending and hold districts accountable for allocating money among buildings based on the learning needs of their students.

The report ultimately falls short of a true WSF plan, however. The subcommittee report continues central office control over real spending decisions and does not empower school leaders closest to the children. Nor do the recommendations call for funding to follow the child from school to school. Unfortunately, as written, the recommendations are a missed opportunity and may simply result in funding the education status quo to the tune of $1 billion more per year (see here).

Other noteworthy recommendations contained in the report:

  • Attach clear timelines to district-funding guarantees so that they are truly short-term and transitional.
  • In terms of school funding, define "economically disadvantaged" students by family eligibility for free and reduced lunches-the same number that is already reported to the federal education department and the public in annual local report cards.
  • Require a fair local contribution to education funding.

 Read the full report here and an insider's take on it here.

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