Piloting a New Way to Fund Schools

Deep within the Every Student Succeeds Act lie a few pages describing a pilot program that would allow 50 school districts to change they way they fund local schools. The Weighted Student Funding Pilot lets local education agencies break out of traditional models and funding categories and instead tie the federal money a school receives directly to the students it serves. Christopher Rinkus, a special assistant at the U.S. Department of Education, recently shared information about the upcoming three-year federal pilot at a Washington convening sponsored by Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab.

What is weighted student funding?

A weighted formula assigns funding levels to different types of students and allocates money to schools based on the number of each type of student they have. The federal pilot allows local educational agencies to combine eligible federal, state and local dollars into a single funding system based on such a weighted formula. The goal is to give districts increased flexibility to support disadvantaged students.

What is the timing for the roll out of this pilot?

The Education Department hopes to have an application form ready by early in 2018. The expectation is that the pilot program will begin in the 2018-19 school year.

Why should districts take part?

 Rinkus argued that having a single pool for funding makes school finance more cost-effective, transparent and user friendly for principals. He also said that under the pilot, districts will receive waivers from certain requirements for eligibility rules and school finance.

What are the minimum requirements for districts applying?

The text of ESSA lays out what local education agencies must do to qualify for the pilot program. That includes:

  • Describing the system of weights they are going to be using and ensuring those weights put more emphasis on the students with the greatest needs, including children living in poverty and English language learners
  • Demonstrating that the pilot will involve a significant amount of the district’s money and that most of that money will mostly go to the schools, rather than central office administration.
  • Ensuring transparency so that parents and teachers understand how and why the money is being allocated.

Can districts that have already been using a weighted student funding formula apply?

Yes, Rinkus said. Districts such as Boston and Chicago already allocate some of their funds through a weighted formula while others such as Washington, D.C., and Atlanta are in the exploratory stages of doing so.

Are districts required to have a school choice mechanism to participate?

Rinkus said there is no such requirement, but added “I certainly think that the two are not incompatible.”

Does the pilot have to encompass all schools within a district?

There’s no requirement for that, but the Education Department would prefer to see the pilot involve a significant portion of funding.

Will the Education Department provide money to districts creating a weighted funding system?

There will be no dollars to pay for changes that come with adopting a new system, but the department will offer advice, convenings and ongoing technical assistance.

What happens at the end of three years?

“Our view of it right now is that we would like to see this go as long as possible,” Rinkus said. There’s funding built into the statute to build this up to a national program.

Is this pilot program a priority for the Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos?

Rinkus said this program is a top priority for the secretary.

How do we measure the program’s efficacy?

 The statute provides for a program evaluation led by the Institute for Education Sciences that will study the implementation of the pilot and its impact on improving the equitable distribution of state and local funding and increasing student achievement.