Those of us who’ve watched the education reform concoctions cooked up by all and sundry for far too long might have a special appreciation for the simile offered recently by Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Education reform, he says, is like the process of making Jell-O. You start with something hot, colorful, and fluid, but you wind up with a cold, rubbery, coagulated blob.
One of the hot, sweet concoctions coming to a boil in recent months is “weighted-student funding,” sometimes called the “weighted-student formula.” The core premise is colorful, all right, and the aroma wafting up is pretty sweet.
Each student receives a funding allocation–weighted according to that student’s specific needs–which follows the student all the way to school. Satan, of course, will revel in the specifics of just exactly how to set those weight assignments. The process could become a politician’s dream.
Student-weighted funding is not a new idea, though. In fact, then-Superintendent Mike Strembitsky first initiated its implementation in Edmonton, Canada, in the 1970s (see last year’s article in a publication of the American Association of School Administrators: http://www.aasa.org/ publications/saarticledetail.cfm?ItemNumber=1189).
But the concept lately has been advanced by intrepid titans of all persuasions–from former U.S. Education secretaries Rod Paige and Bill Bennett on the right to centrists such as Carter Administration education chief Shirley Hufstedler and Clinton chief of staff John Podesta.
The centrists probably like weighted-student funding for its core premise. The advocates on the right probably are attracted by another aspect of the programs: Families can send their funding-toting tots to any public school they choose.
Just delete “public” from that sentence, and you have a program any “forward-leaning” right-winger could adore. Most conservatives, however, seem to be limiting the concept to public charter schools–for now.
At this time, one notable organization behind the concept is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, which in June issued a 67-page report titled “Fund the Child: A 100 Percent Solution.” It carries the subtitle: “Tackling Inequity and Antiquity in School Finance.” (Check it out here: http://www.100percentsolution.org/ fundthechild/FundtheChild062706.pdf.)
For me, one of the most appealing aspects of the Fordham Institute’s “100 Percent” plan is its juxtaposition with the anti-education assault known as the “65 Percent Solution,” a scheme dreamed up to divide teachers and administrators. (See an early deconstruction of the “65 Percent Solution” offered last April by eSN columnist Nora Carr: (http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6246.)
Enthusiasm for ideas like weighted-student funding usually peaks while they’re hot and not too well formed. The fervor begins to wane as the details emerge. And sure enough, skepticism about weighted-student funding is beginning to arise already from the teacher union ranks. Student-weighted funding programs fail to address the complicated issues of teacher pay, charges Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. And Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, voiced an even more fundamental issue: “When you’re talking about redistributing insufficient funds, it’s not going to do any good.”
As fate would have it, though, insufficient funds–believe it or not–might not be that much of a problem for this one brief, shining moment.
A new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says state education funding exceeded Medicaid allocations for the first time in six years.
The NCSL report also “shows that states finished Fiscal Year 2006, with nearly 25 percent more money in year-end balances than they had at the end of FY 2005. During the past year, states’ balances rose from a combined total of $45.8 billion to $57.1 billion. And at 10.2 percent of states’ budgets, year-end balances are at one of their highest levels in decades.
“Twenty-four states boosted K-12 education funding for FY 2007, and 20 put more money toward higher education. Fourteen states increased Medicaid funding; 11 increased corrections; ten increased transportation. Fourteen states plan to use the new revenue to pay for one-time capital expenditures.”
So if weighted-student funding looks good to you, jump in while it’s sweet and fluid. If you wait much longer, the whole thing might go cold and wobbly on you.