Ernest sent me a link to this Education Week story about weighted student funding. He asked, “What if funding was differentiated based on need and really allowed for the dollars to follow the students? It seems several school districts are already trying this.”
Georgia does use a weighting system in its funding formula. Under Georgia’s system, weights are reflected as a percentage of the base. While the “average student” gets an allocation of 1.0, an English learner might get an allocation of 1.2.
But the state has never analyzed its weighting in a framework of academic achievement. Is the extra money allotted for students with special needs sufficient to assure academic success? Are we allotting enough to educate children from poor households to a standard of some sort?
The Governor’s Education Finance Task Force created by Sonny Perdue in 2004 was supposed to develop a cost model that would provide the true price of “an excellent education.” The task force held more than 75 public meetings and discussions with 105 school systems. Yet, it did not make any recommendations on how much it would cost to educate Georgia students to the standard of excellence sought by Perdue.
The reason was that excellence costs more than anyone in Georgia is willing to spend.
In fact, the successor to the Perdue task force is the new Nathan Deal task force, which accepted from the start that excellence may be an unrealistic goal. The current task force led by lawmakers Fran Millar from the Senate and Brooks Coleman from the House is the sixth such assemblage to take a stab at fixing school funding.
At one of its first meetings last year, the task force heard from outgoing House Budget Office director John Brown, who said, “We are not going to come up with a formula that reaches for excellence. We are not putting an orchestra in every school. We are going to create a formula so that every school system has enough money to get the basic job done.”
But we don’t actually know what it costs to get the basic job done for the average Georgia student, never mind the student who brings special needs to the equation.
In theory, the state funding formula, which was adopted in 1985, sends enough money to communities so that they can — with a small local tax supplement — provide an adequate basic education to students. In reality, the state formula is outdated, grossly underestimating the cost of textbooks, facilities maintenance and student transportation. It doesn’t address technology needs at all. To attract teachers, virtually all systems augment the state wage.
Historically, the state had paid about 60 to 55 percent percent of real costs of education while local communities paid 40 percent. Today, the state is only footing 38 percent of the education tab in Georgia. (It’s important to note that one percentage point represents well over a hundred million dollars.)
According to Ed Week, other districts have embraced more realistic weighted funding formulas, including Boston:
Under Boston’s system, a low-income English-language learner in 6th grade—student A in this example—would generate fewer funding dollars than a 4th grader with autism, or student B.
But reallocating resources through weighted student funding meant that about 45,000 students were in schools that ended up making smaller cuts or even gaining in funding, despite the overall budget shortfall. Other schools in Boston experienced real decreases in funding or saw their budgets remain the same this school year, based on enrollment and the makeup of their student bodies.
In moving to a “weighted student-funding formula,” Boston joins other districts, such as Baltimore, Denver, Rochester, N.Y., and New York City, that believe this method better serves student needs and creates more transparency and fairness in district finances. And in a time of tight budgets, some also say this funding method creates a process where cuts can be managed around an individual school’s needs, instead of coming by decree from the central office.
“The benefit is you have a single way of allocating resources across the district regardless of the type of school you’re in,” said John McDonough, Boston’s chief financial officer. That leads to a significantly more rational way of responding to budget concerns, he said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog