To solve the problems of inequity and antiquity plaguing our system of education financing and to ensure that all children receive a quality education, dramatic change is needed. Weighted student funding (WSF) is the best solution. We believe that five principles must be embraced to reform school financing and close the achievement gaps.
1. Funding should follow the child, on a per-student basis, to the public school that he/she attends.
2. Per-student funding should vary according to a child?s need and other relevant circumstances.
3. The funds should arrive at the school as real dollars (i.e., not teaching positions, ratios, or staffing norms) that can be spent flexibly, with accountability gauged by results, not inputs, programs, or activities.
4. These principles for allocating money to schools should apply to all levels (e.g., federal funds going to states, state funds going to districts, districts to schools).
5. All funding systems should be simplified and made transparent.
Sidebar: Riding the Wave in Hawaii
Public education in Hawaii is unique-a single statewide "district" directly responsible for public education. In 2004, the Legislature passed the Reinventing Education Act for the Children of Hawaii (REACH), paving the way for the implementation of WSF for its 181,000 students statewide. Hawaii will be the first state to convert its school-finance system entirely to WSF.
Basic per-student funding has been set at $4,274, and transportation and food service will remain with the central office for the time being. School principals will have control over a total of 72 percent of the state's funding, beginning with the 2006/07 school year.* The state's eventual goal is to move 80 to 90 percent of state funds to the school level. This level implies that schools will need to take responsibility for "getting children to school, feeding them, or cleaning up after them," says Robert Campbell, director of the WSF project in the state education department.**
Hawaii is taking a phased implementation approach, designed to limit the gains and losses to schools. The maximum funding gain (or loss) will be 10 percent the first year, 25 percent the second year, 50 percent the third year, and finally 100 percent the fourth year. It is too early to tell what results Hawaii's comprehensive approach to WSF will yield, but it's one of the best developed WSF systems on the books today.