From July 19th to 20th, 2018, over 50 leaders from 15 districts (and one state department of education) gathered in Boston to talk about just one thing: student-based budgeting (SBB).
SBB (sometimes called weighted student funding, fair student funding, or student-centered funding) is a funding model where schools receive a large amount of their budgets based on the number of enrolled students and their individual needs - such as English language learners, or students from high-poverty backgrounds. This differs from the traditional funding system used in most American school districts, where resources are distributed to schools in the form of staff or dollars which are designated for specific purposes. Though it sounds wonky, SBB is actually a transformative concept that can have far-reaching consequences for schools and students - when done strategically.
The central theme of the Summit was that SBB must fit within each school system's strategy for student success. A funding model can tell you how much each school receives; but systems must also improve how well those dollars are used in order to impact teaching and learning. ERS has worked with several districts that paired SBB with Strategic School Design - in other words, giving principals the flexibility and support to use their school-level resources strategically to meet their specific students' needs. But SBB is not just about principal empowerment, either. It provides the opportunity to allocate resources more equitably and transparently - the first step to ensuring that all students, regardless of race or family income, can have an excellent education.
The Summit brought together districts which have a long history with SBB-like models, such as Denver Public Schools and Boston Public Schools, with districts that have introduced it recently or are still considering the concept for the future. The objectives were simply to ensure all participants understood what a successful SBB system looks like; to spark innovation and receive feedback from peers around common challeges; and to dig deep into some of the thornier issues.
Some of the issues the participants discussed included:
Though no one found the silver bullet answer to any of these (if only!), participants discussed ways to organize the yearly school planning process to better support principals; how to think about resource equity beyond just dollars; and how to truly encourage and support principals to be innovative school design leaders.
Now that the Summit is over, participants along with everyone else will be to access the SBB Toolkit - a one-stop-shop to help districts understand, design, and implement an SBB model.
The Toolkit includes a guide which introduces SBB as well as detailed nuts-and-bolts manual for creating the formula (e.g. setting student need weights, locked/ and unlocked resources, or school "chargeback" rules) and setting up successful implementation (e.g. principal support, community engagement and communication, and more). It also includes two Excel-based tools that help districts and schools model out potential financial scenarios and do school-level resource planning.