The Potential of Student-Based Budgeting for Florida

The school funding formula currently in place in Florida, called the Florida Education Finance Program, accomplishes student-based budgeting and uses the weighted student formula on the state-to-district level by allotting funds to schools based on enrollment and individual needs. In this way Florida demonstrates how funds at the state level can be distributed more equitably through a weighted student formula. Florida’s greatest school-finance pitfall, however, is that it does not adhere to the same practices on the district level. Once state funds reach Florida’s school districts, money is allotted to individual schools based on location, and oftentimes funds reach the schools in the form of staff positions rather than dollars. This design introduces a host of problems into the Florida school system that could be remedied if Florida adopted student-based budgeting in conjunction with the weighted student formula on the district level.

Since districts control how funds are allocated to individual schools in Florida, district officials rather than principals hold the vast majority of authority over budgeting, expenditures, curriculum, and hiring. If money were tied to individual students, however, principals would have a great deal more autonomy over the use of financial resources at their schools. When principals have this kind of control, money is allocated far more effectively because principals know firsthand exactly how funds should be distributed to best suit the needs of their unique student bodies. The increased autonomy of principals that accompanies student-based budgeting also alleviates inter-school inequities by allowing principals to tailor their hiring practices and other budgetary matters to their specific school, rather than adhering to the clunky one-size-fits-all models dictated by districts. For example, district regulations state that there shall be one allotted administrator per 300 students. In this case, a school with 300 students and a school with 599 students would both be allowed only one administrator, predisposing the former school to flourish and the latter to flounder. Such gross oversights could be entirely avoided by instituting a system in which funds are allotted on a per-pupil basis because principals would be able to make hiring designations based on their school’s needs rather than district rules.

Additionally, attributing funds to schools on a per-pupil basis would ensure better overall school quality and promote transparency. Financially decentralizing Florida’s schools districts by adopting per-pupil funding would allow parents to send their children to any school within a district, meaning that schools would have to compete to garner students and their accompanying funds. This element of competition makes certain that the quality of Florida’s schools would universally rise in an attempt to attract students armed with expanded autonomy over where they choose to seek their educations. Finally, student based budgeting is a clear, simple, straightforward method of distributing funds, which promotes transparency and consequently stymies corruption and financial mismanagement. Under SBB, stakeholders can easily discern why each school receives the amount of resources it does, and they can track whether or not the funds are being properly applied based on the characteristics of the student body and their corresponding weighted monetary values.

Student-based budgeting and the weighted student formula would help to make Florida’s public schools more efficient, transparent, and equitable.