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Does Weighted-Student Funding Imply Autonomy? Sorta.

March 15, 2018

I tried to make a point today at an AEFP panel on weighted-student funding that came out all wrong.

We were discussing the differences between school-based autonomy and fiscal equity via WSF. Too often, it was being argued, these two concepts come together. This serves to hold back on achieving equity (potentially) if districts are unwilling/ready to provide greater school-based autonomy (or don’t believe in that model for better resource decision-making).

It’s a good point, especially because autonomy is already largely limited in traditional public school districts due to broader policy decisions around union contracts, state labor law, and restricted fund sources. Regardless of financial allocation model, collectively these restrictions lead to little discretion over how resources are used in schools.

The point I mangled was this: while school-based autonomy is not a necessary feature of WSF, I do think that WSF only has benefits over other allocation models when there is increased discretionary control over resources.

Fiscal equity can be achieved nearly as well with a weighted-staffing model as with weighted-student funding. The WSF translation of resources into dollars associated with students comes with an implicit declaration that various forms of education resources can be used as substitutes. Translating all resources to dollars assumes that quality/quantity trade offs can be made to find more efficient and effective solutions. This includes substituting between personnel and non-personnel resources. Otherwise, what’s the point of translating resources into a common unit (dollars)? If there is no quality/quantity trade off within and across resource classes, then more prescriptive pathways to fiscal equity can be just as effective as WSF. So why bother with the more sweeping policy change to WSF versus producing better staffing models?

What it comes down to it, not tackling teacher compensation methods, teacher assignment, barriers to strategic sourcing of goods and services, etc severely limits the advantages of WSF over other allocation methods.

So yes, WSF doesn’t imply school-based autonomy. But I do believe WSF implies greater autonomy over resource decisions by someone in school or district administration.