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New York School Funding: Is It Getting Fairer?

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Five years ago, New York City implemented a weighted school funding program, hoping to make its budget distribution more equitable for students. Since then, researchers sought to find out: Is funding for schools in New York getting fairer? The answer, in short, is yes, but very slowly, writes my colleague Sarah D. Sparks over at the Inside School Research blog.

As schools across the nation became plagued with fiscal pressures, New York's Fair Student Funding initiative was just one of several district initiatives across the country that sought out a budget model that would better match the needs of students and improve fairness and transparency in district finances. The weighted student funding model, which came to the United States from the Edmonton public schools in the Canadian province of Alberta, funds schools based on the composition of each school's students.

Students' educational needs determine what money the schools are given and an emphasis is placed on decentralized decision-making, allowing principals the power to make staffing changes at their discretion.

In a period wrought with partisanship, the funding model managed to win support from both sides of the political aisle throughout the years. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute's 2006 advocacy document on weighted student funding was supported by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In its version of the funding scheme, New York employs 26 different student-need categories in five different areas. These areas include grade levels, academic interventions, English-language learners, special education, and portfolios (applying to schools with special curricula, such as career and technical education programs), to place schools on a "student need index."

The new study by the New York City Independent Budget Office, titled "Is It Getting Fairer," evaluates the first five years of New York City's school funding initiative. It found that the district could not completely escape its budget woes, despite its efforts. By 2011-12, overall funding for city schools had fallen by 6.3 percent from the time of the plan's implementation, hampering its overall effectiveness. Almost every school received an inadequate number of funds, based on the new formula, with the cuts disproportionately affecting higher-need students.

In spite of this, the study did find that this method helped the district better target student need when distributing funds, even if it may still have a ways to go in reaching its goal of equitable funding.

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