Imagine this scenario: the Oxford School District is spending $10,117 on Jessica, a sixth-grade student. If she moves to Rankin County, her new district will only spend $8,447 on her, under the state’s current funding formula. That formula, which was established in 1997, is based on several factors, including average daily attendance, a base student cost, and local contribution. Rankin County has a smaller local contribution than Oxford; about 41 percent of the district’s revenue comes from local sources, compared with 52 percent in Oxford.
The state has brought in a new consultant to examine this system, the New Jersey-based nonprofit, EdBuild. The group has advised several other states on school funding reform and has been hired to propose a plan that would equalize funding between wealthy and poor districts, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a surprise announcement last week. What might that look like? EdBuild is known for supporting “weighted student funding” or “fair student funding,” which is based on the idea that schools should spend the same amount of money on Jessica regardless of where she attends. What’s more, if Jessica has special needs or is still learning English or falls into another group that has extra challenges, she might get more money following her than the average student, to help schools better support her learning.
Several large districts have adopted this model, including Baltimore and New York City—but not without a fair share of controversy. Some opponents of fair student funding say the system can redistribute resources in a way that hurts schools without as many needy students, forcing them to lose experienced teachers because it’s harder to pay competitive salaries and retain teachers. Proponents say this model is more equitable because it ensures that schools that serve students with more needs have enough funds to do so. In a blog post, Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University and senior research affiliate at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, argued that the model also may push schools to improve. “Funds follow students, thereby creating incentives for schools to attract students, keep full enrollment, and demonstrate excellent student performance.”