A Q&A on student-based budgeting with three districts
A summary of panel commentary from The Nuts and Bolts of Weighted-Student Funding (WSF) and Design.
- Aisha Humphries, Director of Budget and Strategy | Indianapolis Public Schools
- Brian Hull, Director, Resource Strategy | Metro-Nashville Public Schools
- Kristy Miller, Fiscal Compliance Officer | Prince George’s County Public Schools
- Moderated by Justin Dayhoff, CEO | Equiday
Presented at the Future of Education Finance Summit 2018.
1. How does your district design its formula weights?
MNPS: We’re in our fourth year of WSF and the schools have site-level autonomy for spending fundings. It took the district a few years to decide what to put into the formula. For the starting point, we analyzed what the subgroups needed and how much it would cost to get there. Determining some of the weights was easier than others – special education has been particularly challenging. English Language Learners is a little easier because you can base the weight on specific needs of the students. The original weights have been adapted overtime. Every year, we pull together a review team to dig into what’s in the pool of resources and what should be changed. This team includes principals and central office staff.
PGCPS: The district implemented WSF in the 2012 school year, when local revenues were at their lowest due to the housing bubble. Literally millions of dollars had been cut from the budget in previous years and the Central office was not best situated to make critical school-level decisions and provide site level expertise to fully address the situation. They enlisted help from principals in deciding what was making the greatest difference in their buildings. As weights were assigned when revenue was at its absolute lowest, the were relatively anemic compared to the cost and depth of student need in some of our communities. Lower marginal weights make it difficult to do anything with them (as they arent set relative to the cost of actually addressing deeper root causes). Another limitation was that the academic weights were dependent on state assessments that didn’t happen (start) until the end of third grade. The district has been working on deconstructing the paradigm around need and is looking to develop weights on actual student scores instead of a pass/fail, or ‘Basic’ labels and adding more precision to the formula. We are also integrating early-warning indicators and predictive modeling into the funding model.
2. How does your district determine the pot of funds?
MNPS: Our district is constantly in the spotlight. We chose an all-in approach to start and put about half the operating budget at the school level. This allocation is reviewed every year and refined. We typically draw the line at what is useful to have at the school level. For example, we believe there is little benefit to having the principals manage transportation, utilities, and custodial services, so these are not included in the allocation. There is a constant tension though: central office members want to control resources because they are evaluated on them, but they also want to be supportive and push resources out to the schools.
PCGPS: Tensions in WSF districts like ours, similar to other districts, arise from what falls within the formula and what doesn’t. For example, specialty programs receive more resources than neighborhood comprehensive schools and those parents and communities will continue to expect / demand them; other schools rely more on solely what lies within the formula. This becomes a sensitive and political issue for the board because members represent both types of schools within their Districts and try to be sensitive to the concerns of voting parents.
3. How does your district decide on relative amounts of principal discretion?
PCGPS: 7 or so years ago during implementation and piloting, we included Principals in the planning committees and conducted surveys to ask principals what they wanted, what they thought, what they were interested in, etc.. Overall, they indicate a desire for more local control over managing their programs and resources, however they all also indicated that they needed MORE overall resources. They feel that, when dollars are at the schools, principals can be more proactive and find efficiencies. However, the district has only begun to scratch the surface in enabling principals to find inefficiencies and make changes.
4. What advice do you have for districts considering weighted-student funding?
MNPS: Districts considering this model should do their due diligence – there are a lot of ways to fund schools, make sure this is right for your district. I am a huge fan of WSF and know that we have increased equity through the model. Our low performing schools receive more dollars today than they did in the past. WSF is the transparent, calculated way to approach this.
PCGPS: Make sure that your district understands exactly what is going on the schools – what work supports what programs/projects and what supports them in central office. We need to know how much do programs really cost as well as what the goal is in order to come up with any kind of return on investment. Defining your programs and understanding the requirements are a great place to start. Decide what specific goal you are chasing (equity, access, opportunity, etc.) so we know how to communicate those expectations to the Board, families, etc. and how we’ll monitor resources and outcomes in the future
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