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Weighted Student Funding: An Empty Promise

In 2006, the Department of Education completely reorganized the budgetary process for New York City public schools. The new “Fair Student Funding [FSF]” budget process was based on the  idea generally known in the educational world as “Weighted Student Funding [WSF].” In theory, schools would receive additional weighted funding for educating students with greater needs, such as English Language Learners and students with special needs. But in practice, FSF/WSF involved far more than simply directing resources to the schools with the greatest needs. For example, by recalculating budgets to include the actual cost of salaries, a change will come into full effect in September 2009 with the end of the ‘hold harmless’ protections negotiated in the spring of 2007, the new funding formulas adopted by Tweed created financial disincentives for the hiring of more experienced educators.

Shortly after the DoE began FSF, the Seattle Public Schools, which had provided the original model for WSF, ended its experiment with the system. WSF was too complex and cumbersome a system for school level personnel to administer and it was not delivering the intended effects, the district concluded.

Now, an important study just published by the Education Policy Analysis Archives does one of the first broad-based analysis of the actual effects of weighted student funding, comparing Ohio and Texas school districts which have adopted it with other school districts which still use more traditional methods of funding. The findings? That despite widely publicized claims of success, the districts employing WSF provided “no more predictable funding with respect to student needs than other large urban districts in the same state” which did not use it.  Further, “resource levels in urban core elementary schools [using WSF] are relatively insufficient for competing with schools in neighboring districts to achieve comparable outcomes.”

So if the promise of WSF/FSF to direct funds to the schools serving students with the greatest needs is proving empty, exactly why should a school system keep it?