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San Francisco Uses Weighed Student Formulas to Track School Needs

What Weighted Student Formulas Do

One of the primary features of the WSF is that it allows San Francisco Schools more flexibility than the previous system, called the “staffing ratios” model. Through staffing ratios, the central office basically directed school sites to spend the bulk of their resources in a particular way, through allocations of staff and a small supplies budget. This system gave schools little control over their financial resources. Under the WSF, each school site receives a budget denominated in dollars instead of positions and decides what staff and non-staff items to purchase with those dollars. Under this approach, each school has more room to design and use innovative instructional programs that match the specific characteristics and needs of its students, parents, and community. Central administration helps and monitors schools in a number of important ways, but it shares more decisions with principals and local school governance teams called School Site Councils—the people who are most familiar with what their schools need.

Resources are also distributed based on the specific needs of each SFUSD student. We all know that different students have different educational needs, which often mean educational services with different price tags. A student with special education needs or a student who does not speak English requires more than a native speaker of English with no special education needs. Some schools enroll students from family backgrounds with lower incomes who on average start school at a disadvantage compared to students from middle class or affluent families. The new formula reflects these needs by channeling funds to specific student characteristics such as grade level, special education needs, needs of English Language Learners (ELL’s), and socioeconomic status.

Finally, the WSF distributes basic education resources more consistently on a per-pupil basis across schools, and all stakeholders are better able to see and understand how resources are allocated and spent in each school. Did you know how much each student at each school received under the old budget system? Did you know whether or not one school received a higher share of public resources than others? The WSF makes the largest part of the District’s budget more transparent. The public can now see exactly why each school gets the resources it does and that the school is being treated like every other school in the District following a common set of principles.

What Do Schools Do

Schools’ added responsibilities primarily involve developing their budgets and school academic plans. Each school’s principal and School Site Council discuss their school’s needs, challenges, and priorities and build its budget accordingly for the upcoming school year. They determine the number of each type of staff they need as well as their non-staff requirements. During the year, schools can revisit their original decisions by requesting budget transfers. This requires ongoing evaluation of how the original plan is working out. In short, giving schools more flexibility means more responsibility. But these are responsibilities that will build dialogue and awareness among more members of each school community – especially responsibilities to think creatively and in many cases to make different choices than the central administration may have made for them previously.

To make this initiative work, principals and site teams have needed training and technical assistance. School Site Council members have of course needed information on a number of questions — about developing an academic achievement plan, financial management, how to include local teams in decision-making, or simply how to use the software to build their budgets. The District sees building the capacity of principals and School Site Councils as crucial to the successful implementation of a WSF and has offered training and vehicles for technical assistance through each step of the WSF process. Additional training and outreach to School Site Councils will continue to be provided and refined in the future.

About the Author: Stacy Andell is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Stacy has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more information on San Francisco schools visit

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