Weighted Student Formula Yearbook Highlights Better K-12 Funding Approaches

When I hear “yearbook,” my thoughts turn to a page full of photos (including the goofy ones, you know who you are) of kids in the same class at school. But the Reason Foundation’s Weighted Student Formula Yearbook is somewhat different.

This yearbook is a one-of-a-kind look at 14 different school districts that use “portable student funding” (I like the term “backpack funding”) to make sure dollars are distributed fairly and transparently to serve real students’ needs. It also gives building principals more autonomy and responsibility to make budgetary decisions. Reason’s research gets updated every year, kind of like a school yearbook, but instead helps us to see which school systems are setting the pace in this area.

The “Best Policies” piece of the yearbook introduces lots of ideas about how to do backpack funding right — much more comprehensively than was proposed in Colorado’s Senate Bill 213. But one idea in particular jumped off the page at me:

Districts should reward student achievement by connecting the weights to academic performance rather than poverty, as Baltimore has. Low-scoring students and high-scoring students–not low-income students–generate additional revenue:

That’s the “weighted” part of weighted student funding. Different students bring in different amounts to their respective schools based on certain characteristics. Even the so-called major school finance reform that was proposed as part of the massively-drubbed Amendment 66 pushed even more funding out to school districts based on family poverty. Yet Reason points out that a system like Baltimore has, tying dollars based on the advanced student achievement data we now have, has created incentives that helped to raise that very achievement.

Colorado can do better, folks! The Reason yearbook highlights the pluses and minuses of two Colorado school districts with weighted student formulas: Denver and Poudre. Maybe next year also can include possibly the state’s most advanced backpack funding system in Falcon 49.

All in all, I’m fine not having my picture appear in a school yearbook. But I’m glad for the opportunity to read and study a yearbook of great ideas that could benefit many Colorado students.