Put the money in the backpack

Rod Paige, the former Education Secretary, blasts the “65 percent solution” (requiring 65 percent of education funds to be spent “in the classroom”) and argues for a Fordham-backed “100 percent solution” that would provide more funding for hard-to-educate students and let the money follow students. Some students need more from their schools, Paige writes. “Most children living in poverty, for example, need longer school days and years, better teachers and materials, and extra services like tutoring.”

One good idea now picking up support is “weighted student funding.” Under this approach, each child receives a “backpack” of financing that travels with him to the public school of his family’s choice. The more disadvantaged the child, the bigger the backpack.

When that money arrives at a school, principals have freedom to spend them as they see fit. Does the school need to pay more to snag a top-notch math teacher? Are extra hours needed to allow for intensive tutoring? Principals would be able to allocate resources accordingly; accountability systems like No Child Left Behind give them strong incentives to make good decisions.

What about reducing administrative waste, the primary aim of the 65 percent solution? Weighted financing handles this better, too: because principals are given full control over their budgets, they can choose whether to forgo a new coat of paint — or, better, consultants and travel expenses — in favor of an additional classroom aide.

The idea has worked in Edmonton, Alberta, Paige writes. San Francisco, Seattle and Houston are now giving it a try.

This really is a nonpartisan idea that has support across the political spectrum.

I’m dubious about the 65 percent idea. As Paige writes, it would lead to creative accounting. The funding backpack makes sense to me. If the weighting is done right, schools will have an incentive to compete for disadvantaged students.

About Joanne


  1. The backpack idea sounds very interesting. However, I’d be surprised if it becomes common. Here’s why. In order for it to become common policymakers would have to support it. Policymakers, meaning elected officials, are dependent upon people with socio-economic resources to support their election campaign funds. Individuals with socio-economic resources are unlikely to support giving the poor more money for education than they themselves receive. People with socio-economic resources want to ensure that their own children have access to the highest quality education so that they can maintain their socio-economic advantages. Since most people who make political contributions are unlikely to support differentiated backpack financing most policy makers will probably not support it.

    Andy Passs

  2. bresslyn says:

    Joanne — I like the funding following the child. I think it could revitalize our schools, attract entreprenuerial type leaders to our schools, give the schools the ability to offer the courses and services their students need rather than look like every other school in the district.

    I also think one of the reasons policy makers may not like it is I believe it will cut down on the need for large administrative staffs. Under this concept I see the administration becoming a management type tcompany that does a few things –yes, it will decide the over arching curriculum to be used for the district, there will be tier managers (elementary, middle and high) but the rest of the function will be payroll, gathering, sorting and sending back to the schools assessment data, insurance, benefits and not much more (I am sure I am missing something).

    Just my two cents worth —

  3. Prof210 says:

    At least in NJ, where schools within a district are not supposed to have widely differing student bodies (in terms of race and demographics), it would be possible to take this approach within larger school districts. It certainly seems to provide a fairer way to compare performance of principals since those with needier students would also have more money to spend on supports.

  4. Wayne Martin says:

    > those with needier students would also have
    > more money to spend on supports

    Spending more money in no way insures that the students will learn. Washington, DC, for instance, has the highest per capita spending, and the lowest results for the dollars spent.

  5. Principals control their budgets?

    I’m sure the teachers will approve of the new plasma screen in the lounge….

    I agree that Principals should be able to create their school’s budget, but there does need to be oversight.

  6. Camille says:

    The 65% solution does not include school libraries which are essential to student success. Under the solution’s definitions, the library has to go up against the school bus fuel budget for funding as does the school nurse.

    Of course we want more dollars spent on the kids but when spending is defined and mandated there are little “oopsies” and snafus that everyone acknowledges but is unable to fix.

    Library programs are documented to have a huge impact on student learning and success (and the ever important test scores) yet it took a huge lobbying effort and much worry, angst and prayer to get funding for library books and staff included in the 65% solution here in Texas.

    In Texas, our districts are supposedly “Independent School Districts.”

    It just seems to me the more the State controls the everyday decisions of our elected school board, the further away the accountability slips.