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Models for resource distribution in schools that account for differences in student needs — December 2015


  1. What models exist for resource distribution in schools that account for differences in student needs (e.g., students who have disabilities, speak English as a second language, or live in conditions of poverty)?
  2. In the models, how are these differences in student needs accounted for in districts' resource allocations? Specifically, for students with disabilities, how does disability type or level of need (as determined by disability) influence resource allocations?


We have prepared the following memo with information on both state and district resource allocations. The references are divided into two sections: policy reports and program evaluations. Several of the policy and evaluation reports discuss general strategies for weighted student funding while others describe funding in specific districts. These examples include information on the differential weights that districts use for students with different type of disabilities.

Citations include a link to a free online version, when available. All citations are accompanied by an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the author or publisher of the document. We have not done an evaluation of the methodological rigor of these resources, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Policy reports

Center for Education Policy Analysis, School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver. (2009). Student-centered funding and its implications for Colorado: A primer for policymakers. Denver, CO: Author. Retrieved from

Excerpt: The first part of this report describes the operation of our current system. Our state’s system of school funding, in terms of equity, flexibility and limitations, is comparable to the systems of most other states, and built to address certain policy concerns. This system is marked by a variety of components, some that arguably meet our current needs and some that arguably do not. We compare our current system to a student-centered funding system, identifying those aspects of the current system that are consistent with SCF and those that are not. The second part of this report provides examples of how student-centered funding has been designed and implemented elsewhere; and discusses the current research on the effects of student-centered funding. The final section of this paper discusses challenges and opportunities that Colorado could see as it considers implementing some form of student-centered funding, and makes recommendations for Colorado policy makers to consider moving forward.

Education Commission of the States. (2015). State funding for students with disabilities: All states all data. Denver, CO: Author. Retrieved from

Excerpt: Education Commission of the States has researched funding for students with disabilities in all states to provide this comprehensive resource. Click on the questions below for 50-state comparisons showing how all states approach specific policies. Or, choose to view a specific state’s approach by going to the individual state profiles page. REL West note: This database indicates each state’s funding mechanism, allocation, and student count method for K–12 students with disabilities.

Education Resource Strategies. (2010). Fair student funding summit: Conference proceedings and recommendations for action. Watertown, MA: Author. Retrieved from

Excerpt: On March 25–26, 2010, a cadre of urban education leaders gathered in Baltimore, MD for the Fair Student Funding Summit, a conference that brought together districts that use weighted student funding (WSF) as an approach for allocating dollars to schools. Convened by Education Resource Strategies (ERS) and hosted by Baltimore City Public Schools, the purpose of the summit was to provide a forum for districts to share ideas on school funding, discuss what is and isn’t working, and spark new approaches. Participants included a mix of those who have well-established WSF systems, those who recently adopted WSF, those who are in the planning stages of implementation, and those who have returned to a more centralized system…The purpose of this conference proceedings report is to document and share the conversations from this first-of-its-kind event so that participants can:

  • Revisit the discussion in its entirety, make connections between sessions, and use findings in current practice.
  • Learn what happened in concurrent sessions that they could not attend.
  • Share the conference discussion with colleagues who did not attend the summit.
  • Use this as a primer to educate others on the constructs, advantages, and challenges of WSF, and to generate discussions on the issues involved. (This can be particularly helpful to create a shared understanding of WSF issues across groups with different perspectives, such as financial versus academic).

Fair Student Funding Summit, District Summaries ( In each poster, you will find information about each district’s size, budget, and scope of their weighted student funding system as well as details on their unique approach. There are also two overview charts that compare the districts’ choices for weights and school-controlled resources.

School Districts:

  • Baltimore
  • Cincinnati
  • Denver
  • Hartford
  • Houston
  • New York City
  • Oakland
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle

Verstegen, D. A. (2015). A 50-state survey of school finance policies. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Reno. Retrieved from

Excerpt: This compendium provides state-by-state descriptions of public elementary and secondary finance policies and programs in effect during the 2014–15 school year. The report consists of two volumes. In Volume I are state-by-state descriptions across all school finance components for each state. Volume II contains separate sections for select provisions across all states, including finance formulae and cost differentials for students and districts. Tax and expenditure information is also included in this part along with 50-state data on average per-pupil funding, and percentage shares of total funds, drawn from Estimates and Ranking of Education Statistics (NEA, 2014–15). REL West note: See for Special Education categorical funding.

Program evaluations

Furtick, K., & Snell, L. (2013). Weighted student formula yearbook: Overview. Los Angeles, CA: The Reason Foundation. Retrieved from

Excerpt: The purpose of this Yearbook is to profile school districts in the United States that have embraced a decentralized “school empowerment” approach to governing individual schools and adopted a weighted student formula budgeting system. In these innovative districts, dollars follow students into schools, principals and school communities have discretion over resources at the school level, and districts embrace open enrollment and let parents choose between schools within the district. This Yearbook profiles 15 school districts and details how each district has implemented weighted-student formula financing systems and how those students are performing using the Broad methodology. This Yearbook utilizes primarily district-level documents including district budgets, policy manuals and website descriptions of school financing systems in addition to some supporting studies and newspaper accounts. The Yearbook attempts to capture how these policies are currently portrayed in school district reports and public information. This report offers some initial support for the idea that decentralization matters and that controlling resources at the school level is one strategy that can help support efforts to improve outcomes for all students. It is meant to be a starting point for policymakers interested in learning how weighted student formula works in practice in the United States. The Yearbook concludes with a final chapter focused on best practices based on the aggregated experience of all the districts. REL West note: See also from for best practices and district case studies from: Baltimore Public Schools; Boston Public Schools; Cincinnati Public Schools; Denver Public Schools; Hartford Public Schools; Houston Independent School District; Milwaukee Public Schools; Minneapolis Public Schools; Newark Public Schools; New York City Department of Education; Oakland Unified School District; Poudre School District; Prince George’s County Public Schools; Saint Paul Public Schools; and San Francisco Unified School District.

Levin, J., Chambers, J., Epstein, D., Mills, N., Archer, M., Wang, A., & Lane, K. (2013). Evaluation of Hawaii’s weighted student formula. San Mateo, CA: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Excerpt: Given [Hawaii’s] relatively long experience with the WSF, it is only natural to ask how well the policy has done in reaching its goals. To this end, this evaluation investigates the following main research questions concerning implementation of the Hawaii WSF:

  • How was the WSF originally developed, and what changes to the formula have been made since its initial implementation in 2006–07?
  • How have other states and districts incorporated weights and WSF structures into their funding systems?
  • What do the perceptions of principals and stakeholders tell us about the extent to which Hawaii’s WSF has achieved the following three outcomes?
    • Increasing both school discretion over funding and the degree to which the local community participates in decision making pertaining to budgeting and planning.
    • Improving innovation and accountability of school leadership.
    • Promoting equity and transparency in how funding is allocated to school.
  • Has there been significant improvement in the equity with which resources are allocated to schools?
  • What have been the major successes and challenges in the implementation of the Hawaii WSF since its inception?

Shambaugh, L. S., Chambers, J. G., & DeLancey, D. (2008). Implementation of the weighted student formula policy in San Francisco: A descriptive study of an equity-driven, student-based planning and budgeting policy (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2008–No. 061). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West. Retrieved from

Excerpt: This report describes the planning and implementation of San Francisco’s weighted student formula policy, an equity-driven, student-based planning and budgeting policy. It examines one district’s policy goals, planning and implementation considerations, and how the policy interacted with other local, state, and federal policies.


Keywords and Search Strings Used in the Search

“Weighted student funding/formula” and “models” and “students with disabilities”; “school district resource allocation” and “models”

Search of Databases

EBSCO Host, ERIC, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, Google, and Google Scholar

Criteria for Inclusion

When REL West staff review resources, they consider—among other things—four factors:

  • Date of the Publication: The most current information is included, except in the case of nationally known seminal resources.
  • Source and Funder of the Report/Study/Brief/Article: Priority is given to IES, nationally funded, and certain other vetted sources known for strict attention to research protocols.
  • Methodology: Sources include randomized controlled trial studies, surveys, self-assessments, literature reviews, and policy briefs. Priority for inclusion generally is given to randomized controlled trial study findings, but the reader should note at least the following factors when basing decisions on these resources: numbers of participants (Just a few? Thousands?); selection (Did the participants volunteer for the study or were they chosen?); representation (Were findings generalized from a homogeneous or a diverse pool of participants? Was the study sample representative of the population as a whole?).
  • Existing Knowledge Base: Although we strive to include vetted resources, there are times when the research base is limited or nonexistent. In these cases, we have included the best resources we could find, which may include newspaper articles, interviews with content specialists, organization websites, and other sources.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educators and policymakers in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-12-C-0002, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.