This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School District has begun a pilot project in which 57 schools are testing parts of a system called “weighted student funding” (WSF) that would significantly change how resources are allocated to schools and how spending decisions are made.
Under WSF, funds are allotted to schools based on students’ needs, with weights given to factors such as poverty and English-language proficiency, rather than allocating each school a set number of teachers and other staff based on enrollment. In addition, school teams are actively involved in deciding how the money is spent.
The pilot project this year involves the spending side, with schools during the spring months developing academic plans for next year and budgets based on those plans. The pilot schools will get $150 more per student in 2010-11 in return for trying the school-based budgeting process. The pilot schools submitted their plans and budgets in mid-April.
A weighted student funding planning committee that includes 50 people from inside and outside the District is meeting through October to tackle the controversial task of how to “weight” student characteristics when the plan is fully implemented. Any change in how funds are distributed to schools will not occur before 2011-2012.
Schools were invited to join the pilot based on their achievement levels and other indicators measured in the school report cards. Empowerment Schools, which are low-performing, were deemed ineligible.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that she believes schools must “earn” the right to more decision-making authority, even though WSF has been used in other districts to help low-performing schools improve.
Ackerman has used the system in three other districts and has been clear from her arrival that she planned to implement such a system here.