Weighted Student Funding

by Harry on July 13, 2006

It is worth taking a look at this manifesto, which argues forcefully for weighted student funding (in which funding would be proportional to need, rather than, as in the current American system, roughly proportional to social advantage). Achieving weighted student funding is a hard road, and it is worth noting that nobody thinks it is a cure-all for educational equality, but it is at least a vital component of a progressive reform strategy. Here’s a simple explanation:

Under WSF, the per-student amount varies with the characteristics of the child. Students with added educational needs receive extra funding based on the costs of meeting those needs. The amount attached to each student is calculated by taking a base amount and adding money determined by a series of “weights” assigned to various categories of students. These weights could take the form of dollar amounts: an extra $500 for a student in one category, $1,000 for a student in another. Or they could be expressed in proportional terms, with students in a high-need category generating, say, 1.4 or 1.5 times the base level of funding. Either way, the concept is the same: students with higher levels of need receive more “weight” in the funding system. As a result, the schools they attend end up with more dollars.

I’d quarrel with the numbers here (I’ve argued for high need students to receive 3 times the base level of funding in a different context (PDF, p 95)), but even 1.5 would be a lot better than 0.5. It’s also worth looking at the list of signatories — but if you can stand the suspense you might want to read the manifesto first and the signatories last. (Full disclosure — I found out about this because a friend asked my advice about whether to become an initial signatory, triggering a small amount of relief on my part that I was not invited and thus didn’t have to think about whether to sign on).

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07.26.06 at 8:36 am



alkali 07.13.06 at 12:03 pm

Massachusetts has an education funding system that is similar in some respects to this proposal. Under Massachusetts law, a “foundation budget” is set for each school district that assigns a certain amount per student plus add-ons for disability, bilingual, low-income, etc. The state guarantees that each school district will receive at least 100% of its foundation budget amount from a combination of local taxation and state aid.

As it turns out, however, urban districts (e.g., Boston) tend to spend exactly their foundation budget amount or just a bit more, while wealthy suburban school districts tend to spend quite a lot more. (For example, Brookline will spend about 140% of its foundation budget amount in FY07, and most wealthy suburbs will spend at least 120%.)

That inequity has been challenged in litigation but the Massachusetts courts (a bunch of incorrigible judicial activists, don’t you know) have determined that the foundation budget process satisifies the mandates of Massachusetts’ state constitution, and it is up to the legislature to make any further changes.


SamChevre 07.13.06 at 12:13 pm


Can you provide some evidence for “funding … in the current American system [is] roughly proportional to social advantage.”

I see this claim frequently, but it isn’t true for the school districts I am familiar with–the per-student spending is higher in the cities than in the suburban districts.

(I am not wanting to argue–I just would like to see some data; I’ll happily accept any reasonable-looking data.)


harry b 07.13.06 at 12:28 pm

Sam, yes I can but not now! I know there’s a very good online chart showing all this, but I haven’t time to find it at the moment — I’ll do it later.
(PS, I know you well enough to know that evidence and reason are what you’re after, so there’s no need to apologise for asking).


a different chris 07.13.06 at 1:22 pm

Sigh. At 18 you’re an adult. You can sign all sorts of papers with no co-signatures, including ones that allow you to don a uniform and take chances with your life in a war, and if you kill somebody not in a war you go to jail and maybe die for it.

Mummy and Daddy have no legal authority or responsibility in any of those matters.

But you go to college, and suddenly their income is important.

Tax inheritances and use them for a general college fund. What better use could society make of the money left behind by dead people?


Sebastian Holsclaw 07.13.06 at 1:50 pm

“Can you provide some evidence for “funding … in the current American system [is] roughly proportional to social advantage.””

I would tend to suspect that it is very rough since the funding schemes vary dramatically by state. California, for instance, went from county-level funding (which tends to be more oriented to social advantage) to state-level funding a while ago. California represents more than 1/6 of the school-aged population of the US.

I can’t comment on the specific proposal yet, as I haven’t read it.


John 07.13.06 at 3:21 pm

I find the proposal attractive, but would have trouble supporting it without an agreement on what the basic goal is:

1. Have outcomes for all children be the same
2. Have each child achieve as much as his ability allows
3. Bring each child, regardless of ability, up to some basic level?

or ?

Option # 2, for instance, might suggest that bright kids receive additional funding. Options 1, and 3 suggest a switch of large proportions of money to the least likely to succeed.

Assuming , of course, that money is the issue.

Somehow it reminds me of one the less seemly outcomes of American medicine, Fierce competition among hospitals for patients likely to need extraordinary care with insurance to pay for it (one of the reasons why there sometines is substantial competition over “medflights”)


cw 07.13.06 at 10:10 pm

This is an excellent idea. I assume you are talking about federal and state funding, though. Becasue I think about half school funding comes from local property taxes. It’s very difficult to split those up by need. People without children already don’t like it that they have to pay for someone else’s kid, never mind that children of “irresponsible parents” get more. I think the root cuase of inequity is the property tax funding of schools. On the other hand, local funding means local control, which is a good thing.

But on principal, I totally support this idea. When you talk about our school system failing, you are essentially talking about poor kids. That is where it really fails. And the cure is resorces in proportion to need.


aaron 07.14.06 at 1:46 am

An excellent system to encourage people to find creative ways to make themselves qualify for free money.


digamma 07.14.06 at 10:05 am

Yeah, the NEA and AFT would love this.


harry b 07.14.06 at 10:52 am

To digamma: Nope, the unions don’t like weighted funding at all. They defend their most powerful members most strongly, and their most powerful members are in the districts where they have most to lose. They also defend seniority rules in transfer (AFT is better about this, as about many things than NEA) which would be completely disrupted (ie, either gutted or rendered meaningless) by weighted funding. Unions pretty consistently oppose the kidns of measures that would be needed to ensure that true resourcing be more proportional to need,despite their publicly egalitarian rhetoric.

To aaron: in the many countries in which funding is proportional to need, there is little evidence of it creating perverse incentives for parents. So this is a problem that is theoretical, but not practical.

Has anyone bothered to look at the list of signatories? I should have been less cryptic.

Sebastian is right that the proportionality is very rough, and sam, I promise I’ll get a good source for you soon.

cw — we’re looking it in funnily different ways. You say that local funding means local control which is good, and I say that local control means local funding which is bad!


cw 07.14.06 at 5:07 pm

“…I say that local control means local funding which is bad!”

How about local control but state of federal funding. Actually, with NCLB we are seeing more federal control than ever.

Anyway, I think changing the funding system from property taxes to whatever is key to any reform.

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