It may not be apparent at first, but if we want funding to be fair for students, then we actually need to apply different weights for different types of students because some cost more to educate than others. If we didn’t make adjustments for these costs, then students who attended schools with needier student bodies would effectively receive less funding than they should. For funding to be fair, student-based budgeting must be weighted.
Within a district, a general education student at one school should draw the same dollars as her equivalent in another school. Similarly, students with greater needs should receive more funding; but the same types of needs should get the same amount of funding.
This means that a solid student-based budgeting formula will have three components: a foundation (the minimum funding to “keep the lights on,” particularly in a small school), a base weight (the cost of educating a general education student), and student-based adjustment(s) (weights for student need).
Under a weighted student formula, we are actually giving schools the amount of funding that matches student need, rather than using rigid staffing ratios to determine funding allocation.
That makes sense in theory, but (at least for now) districts implementing student-based budgeting will need to sort out the weights for themselves. There simply is no clearly “right” answer as to which needs should be weighted or how much they should each be worth. And for every weight that a district adds, it reduces the base weight because the pool of resources is ultimately finite.
According to ERS, districts implementing student-based budgeting must discuss “what the appropriate funding level is for high-need students, whether high school students cost more or less to educate than elementary school students, how much more it costs to run a small school or a specialty school, and whether it is worth the extra cost.” Then, they need to model it, test it out, and adapt it to find what works.
As more districts begin to implement student-based budgeting formulas, we hope to better understand which weights work best. This is one of many complicated considerations that a district will have to contemplate if it is going to implement student-based budgeting.
In a student-based budgeting system, districts assign weights to determine how funds should be allocated among schools. However, this is separate from Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula, which also uses weights—but to determine how the state should allocate funds among schools. In attempting to fund education fairly, our state will need to consider both how the state funds districts and how districts fund schools.
- Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2010). Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
- Calvo, N. (2011). Opportunities and Challenges of Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
- Education Resource Strategies (2010). Student-Based Budgeting: A Potentially Powerful Tool in Tough Times. Read it here.