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DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education

Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (“UPSFF”) Study

Afton leads 2020 Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (“UPSFF”) Study for the District of Columbia Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (“DME”).

The 2020 Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (“UPSFF”) study, awarded in October 2019, asked questions regarding the per-student foundation level funding Local Education Agencies (“LEAs”) in DC receive for every student as well as the additional funds for each at-risk and English-language learner (“ELL”) student. More specifically, the DME sought to understand the following questions related to the current formula, among others:

  • For students designated as “at-risk”, should the UPSFF include a funding weight based on higher relative need for certain characteristics? Which characteristics should be considered for additional funding?
  • Should the UPSFF include a funding weight for school-level at-risk concentration (i.e. funding students in schools with a higher at-risk concentration more than students in schools with a lower concentration)?
  • Should the English Language Learner weight be tiered, reflecting differing costs by service needs, and along what line of differentiation (i.e. age, newcomer status, WIDA ACCESS level, etc.)?
  • What are the actual cost drivers experienced by LEAs operating in the District of Columbia, and what cost increases should we anticipate over the next five fiscal years, and at which cadence?

To support this scope of work, Afton led the 2020 UPSFF study with a team of national experts. Afton analyzed student outcomes and demographic data, documented state and local practices across the country, analyzed LEA-level spending, developed a forecast tool to quantify the impact of recommended formula changes, and facilitated an Advisory Group of local education experts. 

Afton’s report includes several options to modify the UPSFF so that it may more effectively target funds to students with historically demonstrated higher needs. The suggested options to refine the UPSFF range from small adjustments to the existing formula to entirely new categories of funding. The options included align to the structure of the UPSFF, which allocates funds to LEAs based on student need in a transparent, simple, and flexible framework. By scope area: 

  • At-risk student need: Afton details multiple options for better targeting segments of the District’s at-risk student population that are particularly low-performing, including students designated as high school over-age and/or those placed in foster care by the Child and Family Services Agency (“CFSA”), as well as those experiencing multiple at-risk factors. 
  • At-risk concentration funding:  Though research on “concentration funding” or a “non-linear” exponential increase in per pupil funding based on the concentration of at-risk students at schools is inconclusive, this report presents several options for DME consideration 
  • ELL formula: National experts and local practitioners, as well as analysis of student-level PARCC testing data, favor consideration of multiple options to “tier” funding (or allocate differentiated amounts) by grade level and for students with limited or interrupted formal education (“SLIFE”).  
  • Foundation level cost drivers: DCPS and the sample public charter schools analyzed spent $22.4K per pupil in FY19, an increase of 4.1% on average from FY16 to FY19.  The increases were driven primarily by personnel costs, representing 75% of total spending, and more specifically employees represented by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), which reflect 91% of all DCPS employees. Afton’s report includes recommendations for ways in which the UPSFF might take these costs into account and ways in which the city might address cost drivers going forward.

See Afton’s final report here.

Our Insights

Consideration should be given to both implementation opportunities and challenges, as well as adherence to student funding formula goals. 

  • Implementation Considerations affect the ability to readily implement potential change to UPSFF. There will always be operational logistical challenges to consider with the implementation of state funding formula changes. Some recommended changes may be require navigating more obstacles and take longer to fully implement than others. Afton used the following framework to identify implementation considerations for each option presented:
    • An existing common definition of student need and population considered for funding
    • Student outcomes data – availability of timely, accurate data 
    • Ease (or difficulty) of projection – ability to project student needs with reasonable accuracy, as the UPSFF funds for projected LEA needs
    • Level of legislative or policy changes required to implement
  • Student Funding Goals. It’s important to not lose sight of the big picture – changes should align to key goals of allocating funds via a funding formula.
    • Simplicity – the option considered is easily explained to impacted stakeholder groups
    • Impact – the change results in funds going to the students that need it most
    • Accountability – outcomes of funding changes can be measured over time
    • Aligned incentives – the incentives created by the funding option align with goals of the UPSFF 


Lead with data. The DME, OSSE, and local LEAs all worked to provide rich performance, demographic and financial datasets for this study. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test is administered annually to students in grades 3-8 and high school for both Math and English language arts/literacy (ELA). Afton performed detailed school- and student-level analysis on five years of PARCC math and ELA outcomes data, student demographics data, at-risk indicator data, and ELL data. Additionally, Afton gathered and analyzed historical spending data for a sample of Public Charter Schools and DCPS to identify cost drivers for the foundation analysis.  With large datasets set over multiple years, Afton was able to run many different cuts of trend and correlative analyses that oftentimes painted a clear picture and confirmed hypotheses on relevant student needs and performance. The results of these analyses helped guide options considered by the Advisory Group and are documented in the final report. 


Ensure multiple stakeholders voices are heard along the way. As part of the proposal, Afton recommended creating an Advisory Group of local experts and practitioners to stress-test and provide feedback on options to modify the UPSFF for the 2020 study. The group met seven times over the course of three months, with the charge of providing “counsel, guidance and feedback to the DME on proposed changes or updates to the UPSFF”. In addition to the Advisory Group, Afton facilitated 10 meetings with over 25 LEA leadership and staff during the course of this work to understand supports provided to their highest needs students and to inform the options considered in this report. With such a wide array of local expertise represented in each of these meetings, Afton was able to consider and incorporate invaluable feedback into the analysis and ultimately into the report.

Stats & Impact


Total Funding


At-Risk Student Funding


ELL Student Funding


At-Risk Students


ELL Students