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'Weighted' budgeting for weighty needs.

THE FINER POINTS OF EDUCATION FINANCE won't ignite spirited debate in your staff lounge. But the moment a colleague pounds the lunch table over the lack of money for ever-growing student needs, it's good to know fiscal concepts such as equity, adequacy, and--a new one--the weighted student formula (WSF).

NEA Research has just released an educator-friendly analysis of WSF (also known as student-based budgeting), a trend emerging in several large urban school districts. Unlike the traditional budgeting model, pegged to staffing needs for a given school's enrollment and teacher-student ratio, a weighted student formula tailors a specific funding level to each child--with extra "weighted" dollars for individual special needs. That funding then follows the child around the district.

WSF proponents contend that this method yields budgeting "efficiency" and fiscal equity, and that it is a useful tool for implementing school site-based management efforts. Little argument there from NEA policy analyst Michael Petko, who scoured available research and authored the WSF study.

WSF indeed appears "more efficient," Petko concedes, curbing redundancy and waste. He also finds that "there appears to be consensus [in the research] that a successful WSF system is enhanced by the degree of site-based management allowed within the district"--so long as site administrators are properly trained in personnel administration and the "complexities" of budgeting.

While WSF "shows promise in helping large districts provide equity" between struggling and high-performing schools, Petko adds, more research is needed to analyze the impact of budgeting efficiency on student success.

And WSF, cautions the researcher, is only a "budgeting system for reallocating resources that currently exist within a district; it is not a system that will increase funding for student services." This method does not, he stresses, address the broader issue of adequacy--funding sufficient to meet rigorous state and federal standards for student achievement and school accountability.

"To date, no costing-out study in any state has concluded that, the level of resources within the state meets an acceptable level of adequacy," Petko concludes. Take that bit of wisdom to the lunch table.

To read Weighted Student Formula: What Is It and How Does It Impact Programs in Large Urban Districts? go to To learn more about funding adequacy, read the "Rights Watch" column on page 21 and go to

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Title Annotation:education finance
Publication:NEA Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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