Weighted Student Funding Pilot Program
The second deadline for applications has closed for the weighted student-funding pilot program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under the pilot program, up to 50 school districts around the country may be granted permission by the United States Department of Education (US ED) to create and implement weighted student funding formulas that combine federal funds with state and local funds.
The pilot is scheduled to last for three years. Districts that are approved will need to comply with a host of federal reporting requirements, including that high-poverty schools receive more per-pupil funding and that the funds be used to help low-income students and other student groups with special needs. The formulas under the program cannot allow for funds to be “portable,” nor be used to support school choice programs.
The idea behind the pilot program in ESSA is to relax some federal requirements so that school districts may be more innovative in how they provide needed resources to vulnerable student populations. School districts that apply for the pilot program and are approved may put together into one “account” all of the federal funds they receive for programs serving disadvantaged students and for supporting professional development, as well as some additional funds.
The basic idea is that the districts that get approved for this program will gain the flexibility they need to better serve vulnerable and underserved students and meet the needs of these students more comprehensively and with greater focused attention.
Five districts applied for the first round of pilot implementation, which will take place for the 2018-19 school year; we are awaiting word from US ED on how many districts applied for the second round, which will be for the 2019-20 school year. ESSA permits the unlimited national expansion of this program following the 2019–20 school year.
What is Weighted Student Funding?
Under a weighted-funding formula, money is allocated based on their number of students in a district. A small additional amount of funding is added on for each individual student in the district that is a member of a certain identified student group, such as students who are English Learners (EL).
In practice, this means substantially more money allocated is allocated for districts with higher numbers of English learners, students from low-income families, and other vulnerable student groups.
More than 25 districts around the country — including major metropolitan areas such as Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, and Denver — have already implemented weighted student funding systems. Notably, so has the entire state of California.
Local and state funds usually provide about 90% of a school’s budget. The remaining 10% comes from federal funds, which are usually segmented to help traditionally underserved students. These funds include dollars to help English language learners, youth from low-income backgrounds, and/or to support educators’ professional development.
Because federal funds come with federal oversight and reporting requirements, existing weighted student funding systems generally exclude the use of federal dollars. Under the ESSA pilot program, districts would still be required to comply with ESSA’s requirements but would gain the ability to spend federal dollars in a more flexible way.
Sunday, July 15, 2018 was the deadline for districts expecting to implement the weighted student funding program in school year 2019-20. Districts planning to implement weighted student funding in school year 2018-19 were required to submit their applications to the U.S. Department of Education by March 12, 2018.
The five districts that applied in time for the March deadline were:
Of these districts, only Indianapolis had a pre-existing weighted student funding formula in place. A look at the geographic locations of the initial five applicant districts and the demographic profile of their students follows. Of particular interest is how well-distributed the five initial applicant districts were across rural (Upper Adams), suburban (Wilsona, Salem-Keizer), and urban (Indianapolis) locations, and how distinctly different they were in terms of demographic profile.
What Comes Next
Currently, only Puerto Rico has been approved from the initial group of applicants. There is no word yet from US ED as to what districts applied in time for the July 15 deadline, when results from the 2018-19 round will be announced, or if the applicant districts from the first round were allowed to amend and resubmit their applications.
With the exception of two materials pertaining to Puerto Rico, none of the submissions from the first round of applicants, nor US ED’s feedback on those submissions, if any, is available online.
Student-Centered Funding Pilot (United States Department of Education)
Weighted Student Funding (Education Research Strategies, 2012)
Money and Freedom: The Impact of California’s School Finance Reform (Learning Policy Institute, February 2018)
Let’s Not Miss the Opportunity In Weighted Student Funding Pilot (Education Next, April 2018)
- Three Potential Risks of New Federal Weighted Student Funding Pilot (Bellwether Education Partners, March 2018)
Funding Flexibility Enhanced Under New K-12 Law (Education Week, 2016)
Be a Part of the Process
- Take Action
- Contact officials in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) about US ED’s plans regarding the online availability of state submissions and the availability of any feedback US ED has given applicant districts. Ask OESE to make public the names of all of the districts that applied for the pilot program, as well as any feedback provided by US ED.
- Take Local Action
- Research the student demographic profile of your school district and contact your district superintendent about the ESSA weighted student funding pilot program.
- Contact your local school board to ask them about how funds are allocated to support vulnerable students.
- Convene a meeting in your school or district about how to better support students with special needs.