Considerations for funding models during budget cuts


Teacher demonstrations in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Colorado are not a fluke. The under-payment of our teachers is emblematic of austerity in education funding more broadly. Revenue stagnation or, in many cases, revenue reduction, leaves districts and school business offices with difficult choices to make. There is only so much of a reduction a school district can absorb centrally before having to pass the burden on to schools.

Interestingly, districts often turn to weighted-student funding initiatives in times of budget crises. We can see the logic there: funding cuts disproportionately fall on children who need the most support; so a weighted formula will, at least, help to preserve some extra resources for children who cost the most to educate. Is this the best approach though, and if, so what are the consequences?

Some districts argue that district-level expenditures are already below any concept of “adequate” resources. Therefore, tying dollar allocations to weights might leave some schools more strapped than others. However, at the very least, those reductions are related to student need and might allow a district to continue its attention to particular students or particular initiatives. In contrast, other districts argue that, in time of reduction, guaranteeing a base allocation for all schools is the strongest approach to ensure schools continue to have the necessary resources to operate.

The assumption here is that equity occurs in the margins.

That is, up to a certain point, districts and schools will expend required resources to fund the minimum operational threshold of staffing and services. Only in the resources beyond that amount does a school or district expend resources on dollars that target supplemental staffing and services for children who require more support.

Perhaps a more ideal solution is somewhere in the middle. A guaranteed base allocation is essential for school operation. However, that basic operational cost need not be assumed to relate to an existing allocation strategy or funding amount. A strategic approach that examines business rules, district and student needs, and then allocates resources accordingly can incorporate strategic resource allocation into a base allocation guided by equity.