How weighted funding would work

Districts in which nearly 90 percent of students are either low-income or English learners (such as Long Beach Unified and Los Angeles Unified) will get $3,000 more per student than districts where only 20 percent of students are disadvantaged (like Poway and Irvine) – once the new system of school funding that Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing is fully phased in.

A district with 90 percent disadvantaged students would get $9,596 per student, compared with $6,444 for a district with only a 20 percent combination of English learners and low-income children. The formula assumes base funding of $6,000.

Brown’s weighted pupil funding system would be a radical departure from the current system, in which districts’ revenues differ sharply and often irrationally, based on allocations of dozens of specially designated “categorical” programs, often using unfair or outdated formulas. Brown would end all but a handful of categoricals – special education funding the biggest exception – and reallocate the money based on districts’ concentrations of the disadvantaged.

Brown’s proposal closely matches methodology developed four years ago in a brief (definitely worth reading) co-authored by State Board President Michael Kirst with then law professor and now state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu and former state Secretary of Education Alan Bersin. The primary difference is that their formula also factored in regional costs of living, while Brown, in an effort to make it simpler, does not.

“We propose a new system that is more rational, more equitable, and, we believe, politically feasible,” the authors said in their introduction. Their method certainly is the former; it’s too early to say whether legislators, once they do district-by-district calculations, will adopt it. However, the intent, by phasing it in over five years, is to ensure that districts won’t get any less money than they receive now.

The formula, as provided by the state Department of Finance, would work this way: **

The state would calculate the total unduplicated number of low-income students, English learners, and students who are are both (more than 80 percent of English learners are also poor) for each district. “Low income” would be defined as eligible for the federal free and reduced price lunch program – more than half of the state’s students.

The formula adds a straight 37 percent of the base grant for districts in which the total number of disadvantaged students is under 50 percent.

Example: A district with 20 percent disadvantaged students would receive 20% times 37% times $6,000, or $444 (7.4 percent) above the $6,000 base rate. For districts with 40 percent disadvantaged students, the amount would be $888.

Districts where more than half of students are disadvantaged would get proportionally more money – an increase of 7.4 percentage points for every 10 percent above 50 percent.

The rationale is that concentrations of disadvantaged students create extra learning challenges. Citing studies, the Kirst-Bersin-Liu brief notes, “Importantly, students in high-poverty schools face a double disadvantage arising not only from their own poverty but also from the poverty of their peers.”

In districts with 60 percent disadvantaged, the premium increases 7.4 percentage ponts to 44.4 percent, resulting in $1,598 per student above the $6,000 base rate.

At 80 percent concentration, the premium rises to 59.2 percent times .80 for an additional $2,842 per student.

At 90 percent, it’s 66 percent times .90 for $3,596.

Base funding is defined in the brief as covering the basic costs of education (“textbooks, safe and clean facilities and qualified teachers and other personnel”). However, K-12 funding has been cut substantially since 2008, when the brief was written. Nick Schweizer, the state Department of Finance’s budget manager for education, cautioned in an email that the base amount may have to be scaled back.

Money wouldn’t follow the child

Other key factors:

  • The formula does not differentiate between elementary, unified districts, and higher-cost high school districts as the current system does. That will likely be one point of contention.
  • For now, at least, per-student funding will be allocated to districts and not to school sites, as some advocates of weighted funding argue should be the case. School site funding has been tried in Oakland and is being piloted in Los Angeles Unified and Twin Rivers Unified under the project Strategic School Funding for Results. It ensures that extra funding gets to low-income schools. But districtwide, weighted student funding can be  harder to administer and can put the squeeze on schools with high concentrations of higher paid, veteran teachers.

“What we are proposing is not overly complex and is doable,” Kirst said in an interview. “It’s a better system than what we have.”

  • Along with special education, the only categoricals that will be excluded from the formula will be federally funded school nutrition; after-school programs, because voters would have to change funding for them under Propostion 49; preschool funding; and money for the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), because it stems from a legal settlement with the California Teachers Assn.
  • Districts would have complete flexibility over how the extra money for poor kids and English learners would be spent. They could create financial incentives to attract the best teachers to come to low-performing schools, hire aides, lower class sizes, extend the school day, or focus on staff training. Or they could splurge on football uniforms or spread dollars evenly on needy and non-poor students.

In the mid-’90s, with a spurt in state revenues, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson created the class-size reduction program as a new categorical to prevent the extra money from ending up as pay raises for teachers and administrators.

Kirst-Bersin-Liu argue that preceded the adoption of state curriculum standards and assessments. If districts are going to be held accountable for results, then districts should have autonomy and flexibility to determine how best to achieve them.

Brown calls for the adoption of new, unspecified local accountability measures that would give parents and community members more access to information. The assumption is that they would become a countervailing force to ensure that money is spent wisely.

Advocates for low-income students and English learners will nonetheless argue that there needs to be more assurance – and tighter rules – to ensure that money for disadvantaged students actually will be spent on them.


** Here is the detailed formula, as provided by the Department of Finance, for those mathematically inclined:
For districts with equal to or less than 50% of students Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) eligible or English learners (ELs):
• Base grant (BG) + BG * 0.37 * % FRPL or EL
The FRPL and EL counts are unduplicated, so that a district with 20% FRPL only, 10% EL only, and 5% both FRPL and EL would have a % FRPL or EL = 35% (the 5% both FRPL and EL would not be counted twice in the formula).
• So, with BG = $6k and a district with % FRPL or EL = 40%, the formula would provide: 6,000 + 6,000 * 0.37 * 0.4 = $6,888 per pupil.
For districts with greater than 50% of students FRPL eligible or ELs:
• BG + BG * 2 * 0.37 * (% FRPL or EL)2
• For a district with % FRPL or EL = 60%, the formula would provide: 6,000 + 6,000 * 2 * 0.37 * 0.6 * 0.6 = $7,598 per pupil.
• For a district with % FRPL or EL = 80%, the formula would provide: 6,000 + 6,000 * 2 * 0.37 * 0.8 * 0.8 = $8,842 per pupil.
Or putting it in another way that maybe is a little more intuitive:
• BG + BG * 0.37 * % FRPL or EL + BG * 2 * 0.37 * % FRPL or EL * the % FRPL or EL above 50% (or, said another way, % FRPL or EL – 0.5) or 0 if the % FRPL or EL is < 50%.
• For a district with % FRPL or EL = 40%, this representation of the formula would provide: 6,000 + 6,000 * 0.37 * 0.4 + 6,000 * 2 * 0.37 * 0.4 * 0 = $6,888 per pupil.
• For a district with % FRPL or EL = 60%, the formula would provide: 6,000 + 6,000 * 0.37 * 0.6 + 6,000 * 2 * 0.37 * 0.6 * (0.6 – 0.5) = $7,598 per pupil.
• For a district with % FRPL or EL = 80%, the formula would provide: 6,000 + 6,000 * 0.37 * 0.8 + 6,000 * 2 * 0.37 * 0.8 * (0.8 – 0.5) = $8,842 per pupil
A more narrative description of the formula:  It adds an amount equal to 37% of the base grant for each FRPL or EL student until you reach the 50% threshold. Then an additional 7.4% of the base grant is added per FRPL or EL student, on top of the 37% already added on, for each 10% increment above the 50% threshold. So, at 60%, 7.4% of the base grant is added, which grows to 14.8% of the base grant at 70%, and 22.2% at 80%, and so on.

16 thoughts on “How weighted funding would work

  1. Sue Moore

    What does this mean specifically for the schools that would get only $6,000.00? Is this the base amount after the deferrals are paid back, or will such districts find they will not regain owed dollars, and then have to contend with $6,000.00 per student?
    Evaluations? Hasn’t the governor recently suspended CALPADS? So, what would the evaluations look like?
    I have an idea.
    Before we bring in the new, how about the statisticians at the CA CDE open up the data already in their full possession re:Standards, STAR, teachers, curriculum, SES, etc., and an evaluation take place as to where we already are. Then, try another Bersin marvel.
    I have worked in schools with over 90% of students classified as low income, and the money that was wasted on more personnel, “new” programs, and so on, was literally  a disgrace. No additional money would have kept me at that school because the administrator was incompetent (she later left without notice!), the tenure situation resulted in many senior staff taking “quasi” administrative positions that left the teacher-student ratio in the classroom at lamentable levels. The students did not come first.
    Sorry, I cannot for one moment accept this weighted formula, because I cannot grasp how maintenance, security of buildings, etc., can all be maintained at that cost. How can a high school offering science classes to all of its students,  in particular offering AP science  and CS to all who possess the pre-requisites continue its offerings in comparison with a small elementary school? One day we read about the need to provide equity of education in the A-G series to all students in all high schools, then we find that somehow a high school must receive the same per student as an elementary school regardless of facility needs.
    I would LOVE to see some hard budgets from the governor, along with the CALPADS data, of course. Remember, that informally there is a treasure trove of knowledge about STAR, schools, STAR correlations with SAT/AP, etc., but it’s just not public.
    No more new clothing without the results of the last offerings from the boutique.
    Thank you for keeping us current, I really appreciate this site.

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  2. Bea

    Any idea how this would impact basic aid districts? There are some coastal districts with high property values, but also large populations of ELL and low SES students. Those populations also fluctuate seasonally with students from the families of migrant workers coming and going during the year. I assume the funding formulas would come from a snapshot date, like CBEDS reporting.
    Tying the formula to individual schools might address some of the selectivity concerns around charter schools. Schools like Pacific Collegiate and Bullis might be motivated to actually serve disadvantaged students in their attendance zones in order to capture higher per student funding. It would take a huge change in their enrollment, going from near zero to a qualifying level. So yeah, not gonna happen.
    It will be interesting to see what kind of gaming falls out of these formulas. Locally, we have a district with 48% FRL enrollment, but two schools with 80%. Seems like several things could happen, including an effort to boost FRL enrollment district-wide over that 50% threshold or redrawing school boundaries to balance SES factors between schools, or simply allocating the slightly higher resources to the greater need schools as is done now.

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  3. JIMH

    More funding for the “Poor” and non-English-speaking………Say, that’s worked out real well in the District of Columbia School System, Right?
    Politicians just don’t get it:  Money is NOT the central issue here……..Competency and Professionalism is…….But, since the Politicos are all bowing to the Unions, nothing will change…….Keep talking, keep reforming and keep taxing and wasting money, I’m sure it will all work out for the best in the end………NOT.
    We need Government to discuss what is needed with Educators in the Field, not a bunch of whiny fat-cats that sit all day behind a desk, get out and talk to teachers, administrators all over this State, and then have the guts to put the rubber on the road and change our system back into a beacon of hope for the next generations…….

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  4. Francisco

    I like the direction this is going in, but there are still many flaws as mentioned by the other posters. Anything that starts to bring financail equity to schools is a step in the right direction.

    What we need to see now, is for business to stop talking about supporting schools and actually put their money where their mouth is… there are some programs to assist schools, but more is needed, not just in math and science, but across the board.

    1- Saturday academies in which students are paid to produce results in reading, history, science, math, etc.
    We need to asist all subjects areas to produce capable future workers and leaders.

    2- Outreach to economically and socially deprived students wherein the parents are brought in as partners with business in the education of the children.

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  5. TomC

    Did you read (probably again) the Kirst, Bersin, Liu paper?  Did you detect an aroma of skunk?  If not, you should have (see note).
    The one thing they do not disclose in their paper is “who benefits most” from their idea.  If you cannot guess, I’ll tell you.  The ten districts they do not name, but will benefit the most, are Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Fresno Unified, San Bernardino City Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Francisco Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Oakland Unified, West Contra Costa Unified, and Stockton Unified.  Together with Long Beach Unified these ten districts comprise 20% of the state’s K-12 enrollment.
    These eleven districts have about 40% of the rank 1 elementary schools in the state (and about 40% of the students in rank 1 elementary schools).  These eleven districts (almost) represented the BEST funded 20% of the K-12 students in California in 2009-2010.  Every high school district (those not in a common administration district) and every elementary district with revenue/ADA greater than $9,000 and every unified district (not named above) with revenue/ADA greater than $9,000 combined in 2009-2010 for slightly more enrollment (and ADA) and about $30 per student more revenue than the eleven districts above.
    Taken at its simplest interpretation, the weighted student funding  scheme proposed by Governor Brown is nothing more than a huge giveaway to Los Angeles Unified.  While this might be a good idea, it would at least be honest to identify the motivation specifically.
    (Note:  In Figure 2 of their paper, Kirst, et al show a scatter plot of Revenue/ADA versus %FRPL for all unified districts after applying one version of their formula.  They KNEW when they wrote the paper what the effects of their plan would be for all of the unified districts, but they carefully disclosed only the specific results they wanted the reader to know.)

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