A Bold Reform for Education Funding

by Chris Braunlich(Author’s Note: Eight years ago, we suggested incoming Governor Terry McAuliffe pursue a bold education funding reform that would modernize and supercharge Virginia’s education infrastructure. He chose not to. We offer it again, verbatim, to Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin … because we believe the idea crosses ideological lines and party divides and would represent the first full-throated reform of Virginia education funding in decades. Judging from his appointments, Mr. Youngkin has been more than willing to move beyond “business as usual,” and that tendency portends well for the Commonwealth.)

11/11/2013 — George Allen and Standards of Learning reform. Jim Gilmore and car tax reduction. Bob McDonnell and transportation reform. That’s what we remember.

So what does Governor-elect McAuliffe want to be remembered for when he walks out of the office?

How about reforming K-12 education through “Weighted Student Funding?” This is a concept attracting attention from Governors as diverse as Jerry Brown (D-CA) and Rick Snyder (R-MI), and policy analysts from Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education Bill Bennett to John Podesta, who chairs the center-left Center for American Progress. Here’s why –

Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Susan L. Aud summarized Virginia’s education funding formula like this: “To determine the Basic Aid associated with each student in a school division, the maximum number of teachers the state will fund for each grade level in each division is calculated, based on the ADM (Average Daily Membership) and pre-determined guidelines for the minimum and maximum number of students per type of teacher. The average salary for each type of position is then multiplied by the number of positions required by the enrollment to arrive at a total allowable salary cost. This number is divided by the number of students to derive an average Basic Aid dollar amount per ADM, known as the Basic Aid PPA.”

If you’re confused, you’re not alone.

This formula is intended to fund Virginia’s Standards of Quality (SOQ). Created more than 40 years ago, when Virginia was finally coming out of the segregation era, the SOQs were designed to ensure an equivalent standard of quality inputs: textbooks, teachers, principals, and other instructional components. The formulas funded those inputs: If you have “x” number of students, you need “y” number of teachers.

But the world has changed in 40 years. Educating low-income, highly mobile, Limited English Proficient, or disabled students simply takes more, and our funding formulas fail to recognize that harder (and more expensive) task.

Worse, while principals and teachers are now held accountable for their results, they have little control over how money is used at their school or in their classroom. How school dollars are spent is decided elsewhere, using complex budgets and allocations that leave educators, parents, and taxpayers in the dark.

This gives us with the worst of all worlds – expenses that can’t be tracked or understood, funds that don’t reach the targeted populations, and an inflexibility both archaic and inefficient in a 21st Century world.

A “Weighted Student Funding” mechanism is designed to provide increased budget transparency, local school flexibility, and targeted resources. Details differ around the country, but it operates on five fundamental principles –

  • Funding should follow the child, on a per-student basis, to the public school that he/she attends.
  • Per-student funding should vary according to the child’s need and other relevant circumstances.
  • Funding should arrive at the school as real dollars (i.e., not teaching positions, ratios or staffing norms) that can be spent flexibly, with accountability systems focused more on results and less on inputs, programs, or activities.
  • These principles for allocating money to schools should apply to all levels (federal, state, divisions and schools).
  • Funding systems should be simplified and transparent.

The idea is simple: Determine a dollar value for each student. Make it higher for students requiring more help. Drive those dollars down to the school level, empowering school-based leadership to decide how best to spend the funds educating the students.

By putting resources for decision-making at the school level, principals can do for children what’s needed at their school, not what’s decided at the division level. If one school needs more tutoring, or another needs an additional aide, or a third needs more teacher training for new teachers – the school chooses, rather than a “one-size-fits-all” central office decision.

To be sure, there are plenty of questions: Which decisions should be centralized? Which should not? How much weight should be assigned to different student categories? Should local funding be included, and how? Will any school divisions “lose” state funding under such a system? How can they be “held harmless?”

But that’s precisely why the time to think about such a reform is now—not in the third year of an Administration. A blue-ribbon panel – with experienced national experts as well as state leaders well-versed in the current system – can start exploring the idea with a long-term deadline that looks over the horizon of the next legislative session. Finding a solution shouldn’t be limited to a political deadline.

It’s time to put reform of education funding on the table – not with a timid “nibble around the edges” discussion but with a major overhaul that merits full-throated debate and recognizes the demographic and social forces confronting education in Virginia.

Getting that done would be a notable accomplishment, and one worth being remembered for.

Chris Braunlich is president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and a former president of the Virginia State Board of Education. He may be reached at chris@thomasjeffersoninst.org.

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12 responses to “A Bold Reform for Education Funding”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’d like to hear Dicks view as he just published an excellent series on Virginia School financing.

    I’m a skeptic at this point :

    1. – money per student according to “needs” – that sounds like a dogfight with the culture warriors

    2. – throwing more money – per se – won’t necessarily buy you a better teacher in a poor neighborhood school – where many teachers simply don’t want to teach to start with. Good teachers gravitate to good schools.

    3. – Without any recommendations on how to measure performance – objectively – it’s a pig in a poke.

    The SOQs are not a “failure” in the broader sense – Virginia ranks among the top 10 state systems in the Nation – far ahead of many systems.

    Places like fairfax have 70+% of their grads headed to college.

    where we fall down is kids from parents that have poor educations themselves and as a result low incomes… and the ‘family’ often lives in chaotic circumstances, not able to pay rent or electricity, or child-care to work, etc. Having dollars “follow the kid” is a nice sounding concept but in reality – the problems are much more than just money on the kid.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Dick’s column was well researched, well written and heartbreaking. Why do the clowns in the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond believe that handcuffing school administrations with micromanaged funding processes is a good idea? No wonder the number of administrative positions inside our public schools has been mushrooming.

      Open the charter schools, let the administrators decide how to spend their budgets and let parents choose which schools are bet for their kids within a system of choice.

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar

        A number of years ago, I checked into the number of administrative positions that the New York Archdiocese school system had. At the time, the system had about 150,000 students and a central staff of 24. And the system also ran a fairly large special education program. At the same time, Fairfax County Public Schools had 200 curriculum specialists.

        While this is not an oranges-to-oranges comparison, it is at least an oranges-to-tangerines comparison. Public education is a jobs program for people with advanced degrees. We should cut the red tape, fire most administrators and raise teacher pay significantly.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Keep in mind, that VDOE does NOT mandate the additional administration positions. They fund the minimum and any more of that is at 100% locality cost. It’s the locality that would make those cuts.

          1. tmtfairfax Avatar

            Agree. But I’ve heard local claims that the State mandates things that are not mandated. I guess the public doesn’t always deserve the truth.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            As Dick has stated – and you can verify – the SOQs are MINIMUM standards and it’s up to the locality to add personnel.

            If you look at this, you’ll see that most school districts except for the poorest, usually add local money to the SOQ money and Fairfax actually adds more than TWICE the required match

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/af431220ac54695e3e08ebb6f9de02291714d8df7838dbab03a4833318973c41.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dc0c0114c4dd098765d3195d18e8e7cb5d34bebfbc168bca285a67a61fe77de3.jpg


      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Interesting you say this because the SOQs allocate MINIMUM funding and it’s the locality that has to ADD positions with 100% local money – no state money.

        I have no trouble what-so-ever with Charter schools that accept ALL demographics to include the economically distressed kids but are held to the same exact transparency and accountability SOL reporting standards that public schools are.

        If they actually do produce superior results – I’m all for more of them.

        But I’m opposed to the sneaky game that is being played where they want those schools but they don’t want equivalent SOL reporting. All you ever hear is advocacy for the former and crickets on the latter.

  2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Excellent idea Chris.

  3. tmtfairfax Avatar

    Conceptually, this proposed reform is somewhat consistent with Fairfax County Public School’s approach to funding services for students with additional needs. The Division tries to steer extra resources to the school with each such student, rather than simply designate certain schools as Title 1 schools. So, any school with special needs students gets more money even if it otherwise does not have a high special needs population.

    I understand the theory. I don’t know how well it works in practice.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    It probably is time to take a comprehensive look at how the SOQ are funded. The suggested framework has some merit. However, it needs to be kept in mind that state funding and the SOQ are minimums. And even within those minimums, school divisions have flexibility. For example, there are standards regarding class size and the number of teachers per 1,000 students, but those standards are divisionwide, not applicable to each individual school. Divisions have flexibility, within certain prescribed ranges. As TMT points out, Fairfax County has adopted a version of what Chris has recommended. Above all, if we are going to get rid of the standards related to inputs and leave it up to the school divisions to take the state money and use it as they think best, there has to be careful consideration given to what the results should be and school divisions have to be held accountable in some manner to achieving those results. Otherwise, some would take short cuts. It is a complex subject and any changes should be undertaken only after a comprehensive analysis, with all parties being represented.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      whatever Fairfax has done, it also has the issues I illustrated the other day with Henrico, i.e. a quite large spread in 3rd grade SOL reading scores between it’s elementary schools.

      One presumes that Fairfax fairly and objectively lets the money flow to the kids that DO have the needs but there is more to it than just money apparently.

      So this sorta goes to the idea that Chris has which is that the increased money for the student – “works”:

      School Grade 3 SOL Reading

      Hutchison Elementary 28.04
      Mount Eagle Elementary 29.41
      Dogwood Elementary 35.9
      Graham Road Elementary 36.84
      Weyanoke Elementary 38.16
      Lynbrook Elementary 38.57
      Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences 38.85
      Brookfield Elementary 40.57
      Pine Spring Elementary 40.85
      Herndon Elementary 43.75
      Crestwood Elementary 44.12
      Glen Forest Elementary 45.86
      Riverside Elementary 47.54
      Westlawn Elementary 48.08
      Woodlawn Elementary 48.28
      Cameron Elementary 48.48
      Groveton Elementary 48.6
      Hybla Valley Elementary 49.26
      Braddock Elementary 50
      Mount Vernon Woods Elementary 50
      Annandale Terrace Elementary 50.55
      Garfield Elementary 50.94
      Washington Mill Elementary 51.32
      Centre Ridge Elementary 52.48
      Deer Park Elementary 52.5
      Parklawn Elementary 53.16
      Woodburn Elementary 53.85
      Rose Hill Elementary 53.95
      Cunningham Park Elementary 54.72
      Belle View Elementary 55.74
      Providence Elementary 56.25
      Dranesville Elementary 56.52
      Forest Edge Elementary 56.52
      Hollin Meadows Elementary 56.67
      Woodley Hills Elementary 56.92
      Gunston Elementary 57.14
      Sleepy Hollow Elementary 58.33
      Virginia Run Elementary 58.44
      Timber Lane Elementary 59.04
      Beech Tree Elementary 59.18
      Coates Elementary 60.87
      Newington Forest Elementary 60.94
      London Towne Elementary 61.74
      Eagle View Elementary 62.03
      Lake Anne Elementary 62.12
      Fort Belvoir Elementary 63.08
      Halley Elementary 63.41
      Daniels Run Elementary 63.64
      Greenbriar East Elementary 63.7
      Forestdale Elementary 63.79
      Saratoga Elementary 63.86
      Bren Mar Park Elementary 64.79
      Cardinal Forest Elementary 64.86
      Freedom Hill Elementary 64.91
      Westgate Elementary 65.22
      Clearview Elementary 65.85
      Centreville Elementary 66.67
      Olde Creek Elementary 67.35
      Franconia Elementary 69.23
      Terraset Elementary 69.23
      Rolling Valley Elementary 70.89
      Lorton Station Elementary 71.01
      Marshall Road Elementary 71.29
      Hunters Woods Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences 71.72
      Bull Run Elementary 72.03
      Shrevewood Elementary 72.16
      Kings Park Elementary 72.22
      Mason Crest Elementary 72.29
      Island Creek Elementary 72.41
      Bucknell Elementary 72.73
      Bonnie Brae Elementary 72.82
      Columbia Elementary 74.32
      Cub Run Elementary 74.32
      Laurel Hill Elementary 75.21
      Ravensworth Elementary 75.61
      Fairhill Elementary 75.64
      Stratford Landing Elementary 76.32
      Union Mill Elementary 76.52
      Aldrin Elementary 77.08
      Fairfax Villa Elementary 77.42
      Camelot Elementary 77.53
      West Springfield Elementary 77.61
      Hayfield Elementary 78
      North Springfield Elementary 78.08
      Floris Elementary 78.63
      Lees Corner Elementary 78.9
      Belvedere Elementary 79.71
      Fairview Elementary 79.82
      Fort Hunt Elementary 80
      Vienna Elementary 80
      Lane Elementary 80.21
      Terra Centre Elementary 80.25
      Orange Hunt Elementary 80.27
      Powell Elementary 80.33
      Forestville Elementary 80.46
      White Oaks Elementary 80.7
      Lemon Road Elementary 80.85
      Little Run Elementary 81.08
      Armstrong Elementary 81.48
      Bush Hill Elementary 81.61
      Oak View Elementary 81.82
      Waples Mill Elementary 82.09
      Clermont Elementary 82.28
      Laurel Ridge Elementary 82.3
      Fox Mill Elementary 83.33
      Willow Springs Elementary 83.44
      Stenwood Elementary 83.54
      Hunt Valley Elementary 84.16
      Cherry Run Elementary 84.21
      Waynewood Elementary 84.69
      Churchill Road Elementary 84.75
      McNair Elementary 84.97
      Canterbury Woods Elementary 85.07
      Westbriar Elementary 85.5
      Greenbriar West Elementary 85.84
      Crossfield Elementary 86.59
      Oak Hill Elementary 86.61
      Springfield Estates Elementary 87.23
      Silverbrook Elementary 87.83
      Navy Elementary 87.86
      Wakefield Forest Elementary 88.37
      Chesterbrook Elementary 88.46
      Kent Gardens Elementary 88.57
      Mantua Elementary 88.75
      Sunrise Valley Elementary 88.89
      Flint Hill Elementary 89
      Mosby Woods Elementary 89.51
      Archer Elementary 89.92
      Wolftrap Elementary 91.01
      Colvin Run Elementary 91.11
      Great Falls Elementary 92
      Spring Hill Elementary 92.77
      Keene Mill Elementary 92.81
      Poplar Tree Elementary 92.93
      Sherman Elementary 93.02
      Haycock Elementary 93.84
      Oakton Elementary 94.64
      Sangster Elementary 94.81

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    A statewide teacher pay scale would even things up. The Mountaineers are doing that next door.

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