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The U.S. Department of Education’s New “Student-Centered Funding” Pilot: Is it Right for Your District?

The U.S. Department of Education recently launched its “student-centered funding” pilot program, originally authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The pilot will give up to 50 districts flexibility over certain federal dollars (Those distributed through “Title” programs like Title I), so that districts can incorporate them into a “student-centered funding” model. According to the Department,"student-centered funding" models are those that allocate resources to schools based on the number of students and the level of student need.

Is participating in this pilot right for my district?

For districts that have not transitioned to a student-centered funding model:

We have worked with several districts who implemented similar modelssometimes called “fair student funding,” “weighted student funding,” or "student-based budgeting." These districts recognized that students with greater needs (such as English language learners or those from low-income families) require greater resources, and sought to allocate funds equitably across schools so that all students can thrive. In many circumstances, a student-based budgeting system can be a powerful tool for promoting equity and excellence.

But it is not right for every district. Such a funding system must be part of a broader strategy that focuses on redesigning schools to improve outcomes. School leaders must be empowered to use their newly flexible budgets strategicallyfor example, making changes to staffing and schedules to meet their students’ unique needs. And the central office must change to supporting rather than directing school leadership. As such, a district should only shift to student-based budgeting as part of a broader district strategy and theory of action for school improvement. And districts hoping to implement this funding model under the pilot will have to move fastthe program’s current submission deadlines are aggressive.

For districts that have already transitioned:

This pilot may offer the chance to include more funds in the flexible pool of resources allocated to schools and significantly reduce reporting burden. And the draft application appears to give some flexibility on using “actual” teacher salarieswhich we know would be a challenge for many current implementers.

Overall, this is an opportunity to seriously consider district and community goals, opportunities, and challengesand decide whether this funding system and a school redesign model is right for them.

Learn More:

Transforming School Funding: A Guide to Implementing Student Based Budgeting: Explore whether student-based budgeting is right for your district and get guidance on creating your model - including defining the pool of resources, building the funding formula, and adjusting core processes.

Following the Dollars to the Classroom Door: Why and How Effective Student-Based Budgeting Must be Linked with School Design: Learn why student-based budgeting and strategic school design must be linked, told through one district's experience.

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