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Backpack/Weighted-Student Funding

Backpack Funding, also known as Weighted Student Funding, is a reform that Utah can no longer wait to implement. 

Through Backpack Funding, education dollars follow the student to the public school he or she attends.  Schools are given autonomy to decide how to spend those dollars.  And parents are empowered to choose the best public school for their child.  This results in more efficient use of tax dollars, more transparency, more dollars spent in the classroom, more funding for students who need it, and ultimately, better student performance.  

From the Reason Foundation's Director of Education Policy1:

"Much of our education funding is wasted on bureaucracy. The money never actually makes it into the classroom in the form of books, computers, supplies, or even salaries for better teachers. Weighted student formula changes that. Using weighted student formula’s decentralized system, education funds are attached to each student and the students can take that money directly to the public school of their choice.

"At least 15 major school districts have moved to this system of backpack funding.  Reason Foundation's new Weighted Student Formula Yearbook examines how the budgeting system is being implemented in each of these places and, based on the real-world data, offers a series of “best practices” that other districts and states can follow to improve the quality of their schools.

The Benefits1

In places where parents have school choice and districts empower their principals and teachers we are seeing increased learning and better test scores. The results from districts using student-based funding are very promising. 

  • Prior to 2008, less than half of Hartford, Connecticut’s education money made it to the classroom. Now, over 70 percent makes it there. As a result, the district’s schools posted the largest gains, over three times the average increase, on the state’s Mastery Tests in 2007-08.

  • San Francisco Unified School District has outperformed the comparable large school districts on the California Standards Tests for seven straight years. A greater percentage of San Francisco Unified students graduate from high school than almost any other large urban public school system in the country.

  • Oakland has produced the largest four-year gain among large urban districts on California’s Academic Performance Index since implementing results-based budgeting in 2004.

  • In 2008, Baltimore City Schools faced a $76.9 million budget shortfall. But Superintendent Andres Alonso instituted weighted student formula. He identified $165 million in budget cuts at the central office to eliminate the deficit and redistributed approximately $88 million in central office funds to the schools. By the 2010 school year, Alonso will have cut 489 non-essential teaching jobs from the central office, redirecting 80 percent of the district’s operating budget to schools.

Key Elements of Backpack Funding

Weighted Student Funding or WSF proposes a system of school funding based on five key principles:

  1. Funding should follow the child, on a per-student basis, to the public school that he or she attends.
  2. Per-student funding should vary according to the child's need and other relevant circumstances.
  3. Funding should arrive at the school as real dollars—not as 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.
  4. Principles for allocating money to schools should apply to all levels of funding, including federal, state, and local dollars.
  5. Funding systems should be as simple as possible and made transparent to administrators, teachers, parents, and citizens.

Under the weighted student formula model, schools are allocated funding based on the number of students that enroll at each individual school, with extra per-student dollars for students who need services such as special education, ESL instruction, or help catching up to grade level. School principals have control over how their school’s resources are allocated for salaries, materials, staff development, and many other matters that have traditionally been decided at the district level. Accountability measures are implemented to ensure that performance levels at each school-site are met; and with its emphasis on local control of school funding, most teachers’ unions have been supportive because the weighted student formula devolves autonomy to the school-site and places responsibility squarely in the hands of each principal.

Related Reports

PCE Publications

Simplifying Utah's Minimum School Program

August 2006

Learn how and why Utah's education funding mechanism should be simplified so that dollars  follow the student.

Reason Foundation

Backpack Funding Across the U.S.

At least 15 major school districts have implemented backpack funding, and the results have been positive.

Use the links below to learn more about each district's backpack funding system. (Links open a PDF)


  1. http://reason.org/blog/show/reason-foundations-new-weighte


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