NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 20, 2006

San Francisco's decentralized public schools are one of a handful across the nation that resembles an education market, says Reason. In these successful school districts, officials use per-child funding, parents have the right to leave underperforming schools and school principals have the right to spend school budgets in ways that make their schools more desirable to parents.

The vital component of a decentralized school system is the "weighted student formula." School officials use the formula to allocate funds to schools based on various conditions, says Reason.

  • Schools with harder-to-educate students (low-income, low-achieving and language-learner students) receive more money than average students.
  • In 2005-06, for example, San Francisco's "base" allocation was $2,561 per student. The weighted student formula allowed a kindergartner to receive funding of 1.33 times the base allocation, (or and extra $845), and a low-income kindergartner to receive an additional 9 percent of the base allocation (or an extra $230). Thus, school officials received $3,636 for each low-income kindergartener.
  • Since parents have the right to move their children to better schools within the district, and since the child's funding is transferred as well, school officials have incentives to boost school performance.

The weighted student formula approach yields significant benefits:

  • Students at every grade level in San Francisco increased performance in math and language arts, and district scores are above the state's averages. (Fifty percent of San Francisco seventh-graders were proficient in language arts in 2005, compared to 37 percent proficiency statewide.)
  • At John Hay Elementary School in Seattle, the principal controlled about $25,000 a year in school funds before decentralization, and now controls about $2 million. During a four-year period following the change, the district's standardized math scores rose from the 36th percentile to the 62nd.

In Edmonton, Alberta, where decentralization began, three of the largest private schools voluntarily became public schools, says Reason.

Source: Lisa Snell, "The Agony of American Education," Reason, April 2006.


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