Download the Education Finance Guide to Understanding ESSA today. Get the Ed Finance Guide to ESSA! »

5 Steps to Transition Your District to Weighted-Student Funding

Help your district transition to a weighted-student funding formula and improve resource equity in 5 steps.

Today’s education climate requires districts to think critically about improving their resource allocation methodology to encourage greater equity amongst their students. This blog post will dive deeper into the process for districts considering the transition to a weighted student funding model (WSF); a system by which each student receives a base per pupil amount and individual students, based on their characteristics (e.g., low income, ELL, or SPED status), are given additional funding in the form of a “weight,” suggesting they need a percent of funding over the base level of funding.

If you’re considering transitioning to a WSF model, here are five steps to help your district chart the course.

1. Evaluate your current state

Note: Successful districts transition to WSF formulas over several years so make sure you manage your expectations and plan for the long term. Before you begin, review your site-level spending to assess how funds are currently being used.

Ask yourself:
How are resources currently being distributed across your district?
How much is spent in schools vs. the central office and how are resources allocated across various student group.

As you evaluate where your district stands today, look for patterns that can provide insights on how money is flowing to schools, identify your implicit student funding weights, and determine the problem you are trying to solve.

2. Convene a steering committee

Implementing a new funding model is an adjustment that affects all aspects of a school district. Convene a core, cross-departmental steering committee to help you define your guiding principles and determine the desired outcomes of your funding modification. Consider including school principals, parents or community members and potentially members of your Board of Education to gather early feedback and buy-in.

Since a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t apply for developing a weighted student formula, use your steering committee to develop a common definition of WSF for YOUR district as well as guiding principles for the committee itself, the funding formula, site-level autonomies and implementation. Lastly, make sure you identify who needs to be involved to approve the new funding model.

3. Define the desired outcome

Your steering committee will help you answer critical questions that can significantly impact the efficacy of your funding formula. Use these questions to guide your funding formula outcomes.

Questions to consider:
What funds should be eligible for WSF and which are non-negotiable?
What specific equity gap(s) you are targeting?
How will site-level decision making and autonomy change over time and how will compliance measures be implemented?

4. Modeling and Scenarios

As your steering committee begins modeling and assessing WSF scenarios, use the questions below to measure the efficacy of each model:

Resolution of equity gaps: Is the model solving the problem we intended it to solve?
Communication: Is it easy to understand?
Sensitivity: How sensitive is the model to changes in parameters?
Implications: What wraparound processes/policies have to change as a result of each of these scenarios?
Givers and gainers: How does funding in each WSF model compare to the current state?

Get feedback from board members, principals, and members of your local community as you model and assess different funding scenarios.

5. Implementation

WSF formulas require that the majority of district spending be attributed to individual schools in order to accurately represent all the resources being expended at a school. You will need to have tools in place that account for spending at the school level before the new formula takes effect to launch your new formula successfully.

Your success will also depend on how well your district is trained to adopt the new changes. Aim to engage and reassure those affected on more than one occasion of the benefits to them personally of the new funding model, assuring them of the district’s support. Clearly articulate the risks and benefits of the funding change to demystify any apprehension. Ongoing communication and training is essential and should be tailored for each stakeholder.

Transitioning to WSF takes time and commitment.

However, for districts willing to put in the effort, the results can be invaluable in helping strategically align resources to student achievement outcomes. Need more help getting started?


About the Author

Image of Kate Kotaska

Kate Kotaska is a Senior District Partner for Allovue, Inc. Before joining Allovue, Kate spent the majority of her career in Denver Public Schools shaping the district’s resource allocation model and building a backbone of financial support known as the Financial Partner Network. As DPS’ Executive Director of Budget and Finance, Kate was responsible for streamlining the district’s budget process to maximize stakeholder engagement and transparency. Kate earned her undergraduate degree from Pace University in Pleasantville, NY.