San Francisco public schools are improving, writes Lisa Snell in Reason. She credits school choice and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman‘s decision to let student funding — with more dollars for kids with greater needs — follow students.
San Francisco is one of a handful of public school districts across the nation that mimic an education market. In these districts, the money follows the children, parents have the right to choose their children’s public schools and leave underperforming schools, and school principals and communities have the right to spend their school budgets in ways that make their schools more desirable to parents.
Thanks to weighted funding, schools get more money for harder-to-educate students. Principals decide how to allocate funds.
In San Francisco the weighted student formula gives each school a foundation allocation that covers the cost of a principal’s salary and a clerk’s salary. The rest of each school’s budget is allocated on a per student basis. There is a base amount for the “average student,” with additional money assigned based on individual student characteristics: grade level, English language skills, socioeconomic status, and special education needs.
. . . The more students a school attracts, the bigger the school’s budget. So public schools in San Francisco now have an incentive to differentiate themselves from one another. Every parent can look through an online catalog of niche schools that include Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog language immersion schools, college preparatory schools, performing arts schools that collaborate with an urban ballet and symphony, schools specializing in math and technology, traditional neighborhood schools, and a year-round school based on multiple-intelligence theory. Each San Francisco public school is unique. The number of students, the school hours, the teaching style, and the program choices vary from site to site.
Many low-scoring schools are improving and San Francisco Unified now scores well above-average compared to districts with similar demographics.
Some other districts are weighting student funds, an idea developed a generation ago in Edmonton, Alberta.