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Fair Student Funding Is Dumb. A Comprehensive Analysis.

Fair Student funding turns ten this year and so the district is looking at the formula to see how it should be changed. Fair Student Funding is the name of a model which the district uses to decide how to distribute money to schools each year. Each student gets a base amount of funding, ($5400) and money is added to that amount if the student is an advanced student or a struggling student. Additional supplemental amounts are added for special education students and English language learners. The money allocated for each student then goes to that student’s school. We started this policy in 2008 under CEO Andres Alonso.

With the policy reaching the ten year mark the district is looking to revamp it. They’ve held around six stakeholder forums to get parent and community feedback. BMORE Steering Committee member and parent Keysha Goodwin attended five of the forums, and has written a policy proposal to counter what the district wants to do. I attended two of the meetings, and while I haven't’ been able to learn enough to come up with a policy proposal of my own, it’s been clear from the two meetings that the problems with Fair Student Funding deserve far more conversation. The School Board is voting on the new Fair Student Funding formula next Tuesday January 23rd. The Board should postpone the vote and there are several reasons why.

The Problem with the Current Formula

One of the big problems with the current formula is that it’s based on lagging MSA data. Each student gets extra funding based on their test scores. The specific problem with using test scores to allocate funding in Baltimore City is that FSF isn’t based on PARCC or i-Ready, the tests BCPSS students actually take. It’s based on the no longer used MSA. The school budgets for this current school year were calculated using MSA data from SY 14-15. That’s three year old data being used to make decisions today. That doesn’t make sense. We’ve had ten years of “data-driven accountability” and districts and states still aren’t producing data that’s reliable and high quality enough for high-stakes decision making.

The problem of lagging data alone indicates that we have to do something to change the funding formula next year. We can’t let this problem continue. But the district’s proposed changes to the formula aren’t the answer.

The district’s major changes are that it wants to replace the low achievement supplement with a poverty supplement. The extra money for students who scored Advanced on the MSA is changing to extra money for students who are identified as advanced, gifted or talent development. They are also adding a weight for concentrated poverty. The district gets credit for listening to parents and educators at forums. We said that we wanted to move away from weights being based on PARCC and we wanted the formula to use an equity lens that addresses poverty. However there are still so many problems and unanswered questions that this new formula should not be approved next Tuesday.

Problems with the Proposed Formula

  • We don’t know how the proposed formula would affect each school. In the January 16th forum, Central Office promised to release a breakdown of how each school’s 2018 budget would have been different if it were calculated using the proposed formula. They have said they would put this online before the Tuesday vote “by the end of this week.” Assuming that’s Friday, that’s only giving advocates a weekend and one work day to find the data and share it with the rest of the school community.