Weighted Student Formula in the States
© Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) | Dreamstime


Weighted Student Formula in the States

Subsection of Annual Privatization Report 2013: Education

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Public funding systems at the state and local level are also adapting to a “school funding portability” framework, where state and local school funding is attached to the students and given directly to the institution in which the child enrolls. School funding portability systems (in cities like New York, Baltimore, Denver, Hartford and Cincinnati, and states including Rhode Island, Hawaii and Indiana) are funding students through student-based budgeting mechanisms. In 2012, Prince George’s County, Newark and Boston moved to full weighted student formula systems whereby the money follows the child, with schools receiving actual dollars( rather than staffing allocations) based on each child’s precise funding determined by various “weights” based on factors such as grade level, socio-economic status and past educational performance. Los Angeles Unified has more than 100 pilot schools funded on a per-pupil basis. In California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio and Utah legislative debates persist about fixing the state school finance system through a weighted student formula.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a “Local Control Funding Formula” for 2013 that would provide at-risk children more money and give local officials greater control by eliminating state earmarks for categorical programs like class-size reduction.1 Districts currently receive a combination of an unrestricted grant, called the revenue limit, plus categorical grants. Both vary from district to district. Some outdated formulas go back 30 years; others have been frozen and have failed to keep up with student growth and declines. Under the new formula, districts will receive a base grant plus supplemental dollars based on the number of students who are English learners, in foster care or whose families are low-income. Every low-income, foster care or not-English-proficient student will get an extra 35 percent of the base grant: $2,380, once fully phased in. So, for example, for a district where 25 percent of students are targeted for extra funding, the average per-student funding in seven years would be $7,395 ($6,800 base plus $595 supplement). A district with 50 percent students in need would get $7,990 ($6,800 plus $1,190). Students would receive extra funding for only one at-risk category. In the current version of Governor Brown’s funding proposal, dollars would follow the students to the district but not necessarily to the school level.

The Colorado School Finance Partnership has called for statewide school finance reform that would institute a weighted student formula and have money follow the child into schools. Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver plans to introduce school finance reform legislation in February 2013 in order to reform school finance during the 2013 session.2

In Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a new way of funding education in the Wolverine State. He would change the State School Aid Act of 1979, which funds districts and schools based on their total enrollments, and establish a system of funding that instead follows the child.3 The Michigan Public Education Finance Act (PEFA) is based on Snyder’s Education proposals that include:

  • A new “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” plan that proposes that students take classes anywhere they want with the state’s student funding.
  • Performance-based funding rather than seat time requirements.
  • Provisions that Michigan’s foundation allowance should not be exclusively tied to the school district a child attends. Instead, funding should follow and be based on the individual student.

Growing interest in student-based budgeting at the local and state level reflects a national trend toward more decentralized school funding systems, in which money follows the child through a number of school-choice mechanisms, ranging from charter schools and school vouchers, to education savings accounts and “backpack funding” initiatives.

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1 John Festerwald, “With More Money to Spend, Brown Launches K-12 Funding Reform,” Edsource Today, January 11, 2013.

2 Todd Engdahl, “School Finance Reform Plans take Shape,” EdNews Colorado, December 18, 2012.

3 Mike Nichols, “Gov. Snyder Education Reform Act: Parents Should be able to Choose,” Grand Rapids Business Journal, December 13, 2012.