Afton was proud to partner with Boston Public Schools (BPS) alongside UPD Consulting to reimagine Boston’s school funding policy. The BPS Reimagine School Funding Project (RSF) was an 18-month process that brought together student, family, community, and school leader voices in 2022-23.
At the onset, the partners acknowledged that with an enrollment decline of 16.2% over 10 years – a phenomenon affecting different schools and student groups unequally – there was concern that the current weighted student funding (WSF) model may not have been equitably distributing resources as intended. Additionally, the District faced two sustainability challenges: 1) the end of ESSER Federal Covid relief funding and 2) sustaining the “hold harmless” strategy for schools experiencing declining enrollment since the pandemic. Finally, comprehensive changes like the district wide expansion of inclusive education environments and new multilingual learner programming raised the urgency of ensuring that equitable funding was in place to allow these initiatives to be successful. In sum, Boston, like many other major urban districts, faced the conundrum of decreasing enrollment while the proportion of BPS students requiring specialized support continued to rise.
While BPS made incremental funding changes from 2012-22 to help offset this changing population, the goal of our work was to support BPS in designing a funding policy that more equitably supports each child to achieve and thrive, with a focus on the BPS students and families who have been historically marginalized. Afton and UPD designed this project to center the broader BPS Community as part of both the process and the ultimate funding decision. Working groups designed funding model options and impact assessments, conducted community engagement, and utilized principal expertise to guide the implementation. This process leveraged the BPS Racial Equity Planning Tool which lays out a six-step process to ensure each decision we make is aimed at closing opportunity gaps and advancing racial equity.
At the completion of the project, the Community Member Steering Committee made final recommendations for a school funding policy to the Superintendent, which was categorized into three primary funding policy components:
- Funding Allocations: The methodologies which are used to calculate staffing,
resource, and/or funding allocation amounts to schools
- Funding Use Policy: The rules and guidelines which specify, for each specific
allocation, the degree of flexibility a school has over use of that allocation.
- Budgeting Process: The process in which the District, schools, and the community go through to determine staffing, resources, and funding in each school.
Funding allocations are currently the primary way schools receive funding to meet their student and staff needs and innovate around education. The Steering Committee heard a resounding desire for families to have a predictable baseline set of services within every school at BPS. Members also recognized the local context of each school community, and the importance of the school leader’s voice in resourcing decisions. The recommendations separate funding allocations from funding use policies, and as such, set forth guidelines for a baseline set of allocated positions in addition to fully flexible funding. Flexibility is built into the funding use policy to allow community input into the innovative adjustments that school leaders and families may want to see to meet their own school community’s needs.
These recommendations are intended to be a roadmap for BPS to achieve greater equity in school-based funding and better serve students who are the most marginalized in the system currently.
This project included unprecedented engagement of school district constituents. The project structure ensured that community members had time and space to articulate their vision for a BPS where their representative groups could thrive. It was intended to disrupt and subvert traditional hierarchies and decision making roles and truly center community voice throughout the process. The RSF Project intentionally sought to be responsive to leadership, perspectives, ideas, and requests from the community along the way. We recommend that this style of shared decision-making within district communities become the standard operating procedure for making change.
BPS’s Racial Equity Planning Tool explicitly identifies certain student groups – Black, Latinx, multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students – as those who have been historically marginalized. We anticipate that redistributing funds towards these student groups that have been furthest away from opportunity will provide support in the school building for each child to achieve and thrive. Schools can be the locus of change. The proposed BPS budget and tenets emphasize that trust in school leaders and communities is the pathway to ensure all students have access to essential resources to support their unique, individual needs.
At Afton, we believe that districts and schools can advocate for equitable outcomes based on allocation methodologies (“funding formulas”) that incorporate direct awareness of the needs of students, staff, and families in each education community. In some cases, this may mean more flexible spending authority for school leaders while typically, districts will maintain at least some control over consistent use of funds by their schools. Where each district formula lands in terms of autonomy vs. consistency of funding allocation spending across the district will depend on many factors. Research has not concluded that any allocation methodology leads to better outcomes. Any allocation methodology has potential to be transparent, student-centered, and equitable. Therefore, the “best” methodology depends on your context and goals. System-wide goals—informed by research, data, context, and lived experience—matter a lot. And of course, thoughtful planning and support for effective implementation will greatly influence the effectiveness of any methodology.