It looks like “fair student funding” is on its way to Minneapolis! This innovative school budgeting model, which helps districts reorganize their resources more effectively and equitably to increase student success, is now in full swing in districts such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Hartford, Houston, New York City, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle.
Because Minneapolis might soon shift from traditional school funding to “fair student funding,” we need to take a closer look at this model. Many educators—myself included—have questions on how fair student funding could play out, and we must make our voices heard.
First, let me explain how most school funding works now. Schools receive varying amounts of funding based on a few key factors, including school size, school type, building utilization, teacher compensation, enrollment projections, and ad-hoc exceptions. This results in obvious disparities in funding between schools, even within one district.
Proponents of fair student funding seek to bring more intentionality to how funding is allocated. One of the main strategies of fair student funding is to de-centralize resources and move decision-making and budget allocations away from districts and unions and more directly to schools.
Here’s one example of how fair student funding might change how schools receive funds. The traditional model of funding teachers based on the average salary—currently in place in Minneapolis—essentially penalizes schools that have less experienced teachers, who are less “expensive” than the average teacher salary. In Minneapolis Public Schools, for example, schools higher in poverty usually have fewer veteran teachers and yet pay the same per teacher as a more stable school with more veteran teachers. With fair student funding, schools would budget resources based on the actual cost of their own teacher salaries.
While fair student funding could be a step in the right direction, there’s even more we could do to improve our teacher compensation model:
Flatten the traditional teacher compensation model of steps and lanes. In my own school, I work with some veteran teachers who earn double that of some of their peers. Are those veteran teachers twice as effective? I propose that our district increase teachers’ starting salaries, and then make smaller incremental increases based on a variety of factors, including teacher evaluations, which will roll out statewide in fall 2014.
Create more career pathways for teachers. Schools need flexibility in creating and funding hybrid teacher leadership positions. If an effective teacher assumes a leadership position, she should be compensated accordingly. Traditional teacher compensation discourages teachers from taking on new roles due to fear of losing seniority or a hesitation to risk job security by taking a position outside of their teacher union. In our outdated teacher compensation model, our district loses out on the leadership of expert teachers.
Increase teacher compensation in tough-to-staff schools. Traditional school funding, coupled with the fact that it’s difficult to attract and keep newer teachers in high-poverty schools, perpetuates an oppressive school system for high poverty students. If schools want to attract and keep effective teachers, they need to provide rewards and incentives. For example, the Talent Transfer Initiative, funded by the federal government, conducted a 2010 study where teachers were paid $20,000 to move to a high-poverty school. After two years, students of the transfer teachers significantly outperformed the control groups’ students. More importantly, nine out of the 10 vacancies in traditionally tough-to-staff positions were filled! We must do all we can to staff high-poverty schools with high-quality teachers.
One thing is clear: Minneapolis’ teacher compensation model is in need of reform. I urge school leaders to look at the whole picture of fair student funding and to include teachers’ voices at the table during the decision-making process.
Holly Kragthorpe teaches seventh-graders at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis where she is a union steward for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, a school captain for Educators 4 Excellence, and a teacher blogging fellow for MinnCAN.