Friday, February 29, 2008

"weighted student formula": making education funding more equitable and efficient

Excerpts from an essay by Sam Staley in the Evansville Courier-Press on a significant proposal for education reform
(hat tip: Jeff/NA N-T)...

First, on the need for institutional change (vs. tweaking the system or spending more money)...

At root is a fundamental problem. Public schools are bureaucracies run — sometimes micromanaged — by local elected officials who are often poorly equipped to hold their administrators accountable for results. The public school system is flawed. We don't have the right incentives lined up to encourage the innovation and investment in the classroom necessary to get the results our children deserve.

It's no one's "fault." It's not because Republicans or Democrats are in charge. It's an institutional problem. In short, the system needs changed, not necessarily the people in charge or working within it.

Fortunately, for the first time in decades, a school finance reform measure is being implemented in school districts across the nation with the potential to cross the partisan divide and create the incentives necessary for teachers and administrators to build and nurture effective classrooms.

The concept is simple: Fund our schools based on whether they are providing an education parents (and students) value. Note the distinction — fund the schools, not the districts. Move the money down to where it can be used most effectively and give the people closest to the classroom control of it. Each school's funding is based on the level of enrollment. The more children a school teaches, the more money a school gets. And funding is adjusted for the special needs of the individual student.

The concept, dubbed "Weighted Student Formula," is showing promise where it's been applied. The most extensive experiment is in New York City public schools, where school-based funding (and budget control) is being extended to 1,300 schools....

Staley points to examples in Oakland, Cincinnati and San Francisco-- and notes that "Nevada changed its state statutes to give every public school district the freedom to adopt this new model"-- before pointing to two other advantages...

-Because the funding is tied to the student, the effect is to equalize funding across the board. All students in the same category get funded at the same level, so inequities based on income, commercial tax base or politics are minimized.

-The formula also creates transparency, a benefit anyone who has spent time trying to track dollars in the current system can appreciate.


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