Weighted Student Formula : Putting Funds Where They Count in Education Reform

This is an excerpt from the conclusion of an recent paper posted on the Education Working Paper Archive by Bruce S. Cooper, Timothy R. DeRoche, William G. Ouchi, Lydia G. Segal, and Carolyn Brown. WSF stands for Weighted Student Formula, a means of budgeting that assigns money to students based on a number of factors instead budgeting by position or building. The Equity Formula in Madison is similar in some ways, but recent budget cuts have left very little money to be distributed. To read the full paper click here.
IV. Twelve Suggestions for Successful Implementation of WSF
Based on lessons learned from Edmonton, Seattle, and Houston, we have compiled the following list of “commandments” that may be useful to districts beginning to implement a WSF system. By following these guidelines, district leaders can ensure that the WSF program allocates funds equitably and provides local educators with the right kinds of incentives.
Distribute as much as possible of the operating budget via the WSF. Schools will feel the impact of budgetary discretion only when they have significant resources at their disposal.
Avoid subsidies for small schools. If small schools are to succeed, they must do so within the same per-pupil budget as larger schools.
Phase-in the financial impact of WSF over 2-3 years. Schools need time to prepare for the significant budget changes that often result from the implementation of WSF. Pilot programs may not be effective, since they can pit schools against one another.
Phase-in the use of actual teacher salaries over 5-10 years. Schools need an extended period of time to address the complex financial consequences of their hiring decisions.
Establish a public forum for making weighting decisions. Weighting decisions must be driven by the educational needs of different types of students. Principals, district administrators, parents, and teachers must all accept the weights as valid.
Base funding on a mixture of enrollment and attendance. Schools should receive a financial incentive to improve attendance rates. However, policies should not penalize schools that serve students with high rates of truancy.
Fund secondary schools at a higher base rate than elementary schools. Historically, secondary schools have required more funds per student than elementary schools, and WSF should reflect this difference.
Give schools information on expenditures as soon and as often as possible. To make responsible spending decisions, principals must have access to up-to-date financial information. Financial systems must be transparent, accurate, and up-to-date.
Make it easy for schools to purchase from outside vendors. When schools are allowed to purchase products/services from outside vendors, Central Office units must compete for business and therefore push themselves to improve services. Credit cards allow schools to make instantaneous spending decisions.
Provide appropriate support and oversight for principals and support staff. To operate in a world of budgetary discretion, new principals need management training. Each school may need one highly-trained support person to serve as the site’s business manager.
Allow parents to choose the public school that best fits their needs. Public school choice complements a WSF system by creating a financial incentive for schools to improve their educational programs, thereby attracting more students (and more dollars). Weightings ensure that schools have an incentive to recruit and serve students with special needs.
Share information on school performance with educators and parents. Decision makers must see the educational consequences of their spending decisions. Since WSF empowers schools to target programs to the local student population, local educators need accurate, up-to-date information on student achievem