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This Month's Weigh In

Does weighted student funding work? Five administrators offer their views.

March/April 2009

A weighted student formula allows the money to follow the students and their needs,” says Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. “I think that’s important. We know that poverty brings certain challenges. We have to address those, often before we can educate children. I wouldn’t want to think that because a poor child attends school on one side of town, and a similar student attends school on the other, they wouldn’t get the same resources. “But instructional strategies have to follow. Teacher effectiveness makes a huge difference. Putting in a weighted student formula without an academic plan will not help you reach the overarching goal of increasing student achievement.”

It could help our schools to reduce class size,” says Jill Wynns, school board member, San Francisco Unified School District. “We want to empower schools to make better decisions because they know what they need.... A lot of [elementary] schools have used weighted student funding to reduce class size. We have a state-funded reduced class size [program] for K–3 and federally funded reduced class size programs for middle and high schools, but the elementary schools were saying ‘we could afford one more teacher.’ If they have the money and the space.... We couldn’t know if we made that decision centrally.”

The model actually cost us more money,” says Linda Sebring, budget director for Seattle Public Schools. (Seattle used weighted student funding for years before switching in 2007 to weighted staffing funding.) “Approximately $7 million more, because [weighted student funding] masked the fact that there weren’t enough resources to provide services such as counseling and administrative support. Schools shifted all of their possible resources into class size reductions, eliminating some of the non-classroom staff. “One of the other issues we lost in the previous model was accountability. Who was responsible if a school didn’t perform? Not principals, since their building teams worked to identify the resource distribution at the school; not central administrators, since the school made resource decisions. It was a catch-22.”

We need to talk about it with parents and others who have a stake in public education,” says Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan. “Unless it’s clearly understood as benefiting schools and children, it just won’t be successful. “One thing I think parents and schools are concerned about is whether they perceive funding is being taken away from their community. “The work that goes into educating the public will be critically important. And it’s a matter of informing not only the parents but the employees in the schools. This is a completely new way of budgeting. “I would encourage a pilot [program] before expanding it to all schools.”

We tried it, but now use a uniform per-student formula,” says Deborah A. Gist, state superintendent for D.C. schools. “The uniform per-student funding formula is very similar. There’s a foundation amount and various weights assigned based on need. The difference is that uniform funding provides charter schools a funding system. “I think [weighted student funding] is a valuable tool for districts to ensure resources are equitably distributed ... as is any funding formula that is weighted to specific needs of the learner.”

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