School budgeting is often very complex, and the rules and regulations often leave limited flexibility for principals and teachers to make decisions about how to allocate resources to benefit the students in their schools and classrooms. According to the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown, typical principals have authority over only 5% of their budgets. This lack of autonomy is at least partially due to negotiated contract agreements and other regulations that dictate school-level decisions.
“Nimbleness is rare in schools in part because existing district structures typically impede it,” wrote Naomi Calvo and Karen Hawley Miles of Education Resource Strategies. “Resource patterns generally are a given in most schools, rather than something under principal control.”
In recent years, some states and school districts — including California, Denver, and Boston — have transitioned to “student-based allocation,” also known as “weighted student funding,” which allocates funds based on the number of students in a school and their characteristics (such as the number of students in poverty, the number who are homeless and the number who are disabled). The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) included a Flexibility for Equitable Per-Pupil Funding pilot program, which gave 50 school districts in the United States the opportunity to combine federal, state and local funding and allocate them through a single student-based formula based on student needs.
Scholars and policy makers say student-based allocation leads to greater equity, transparency, accountability, and autonomy for school-based decision-makers.
Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Voices in Urban Education, Student-Based Budgeting (Fall 2010)
Current expenditures and current expenditures per pupil in public elementary and secondary schools: 1989-90 through 2025-26: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_236.15.asp?current=yes
Public elementary and secondary revenues and expenditures, by locale, source of revenue, and purpose of expenditure: 2012-13: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_235.40.asp?current=yes
Edunomics Lab, Student Based Allocation 101