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.
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.