Report: Hartford Schools' Unique Funding Model Is Working
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
April 19, 2012
HARTFORD —— The city's school principals have operated as chief executive officers in recent years, crafting their school's multimillion-dollar budget as well as overseeing discipline and performance.
Under student-based budgeting, a funding model that only Hartford has implemented in Connecticut, projected enrollment and the needs of individual students determine how much money goes to each school. Bridgeport is transitioning to the model next fiscal year.
A report released this week found that the budgeting system has largely met Hartford's expectations — making funding more equitable and raising accountibility for principals — but that there is room for improvement.
Public Impact, an education policy and consulting firm in North Carolina, analyzed budget data and interviewed current principals who experienced the shift to the new model in 2008. The analysis was commissioned by the reform group Achieve Hartford! with a $40,000 grant from the H.A. Vance Foundation.
The 47-page report, "Funding a Better Education: Conclusions from the First Three Years of Student-Based Budgeting in Hartford," considered the current system a "radical break" from the district's former way of establishing budgets, in which schools mainly received money based on size and historical staffing levels.
Still the traditional method in the state, Hartford administrators said it resulted in significant spending gaps within the district, with some schools receiving less money even though they had a high population of students with more needs.
The new model directs money to principals based on a per-pupil formula that considers a student's grade level, test scores, special education needs and English Language Learner status. In the 2010-11 year, for example, a high-achieving eighth-grader would generate $7,759 for a school, the report stated. For a high school freshman who scored poorly and is learning English, a school received $11,648 to spend on staffing and resources to improve achievement.
The school system sets the next academic year's budget in the spring. But so far, the report noted, Hartford administrators have chosen not to shift funding when students end up attending different schools. Among the report's recommendations is that administrators account for enrollment changes in the summer, "when it is easier to reallocate funds."
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she welcomed the report's findings and believes they show one aspect of the city's overall reform efforts, which include "principal empowerment" and directing 75 percent of funds to schools. The remaining 25 percent goes to central office expenses, such as transportation.
Former Education Commissioner Theodore Sergi said Hartford broke tradition in the way it distributes education money — and that's a good thing, he said.
"The superintendent may find, in fact, that student-based budgeting has some areas that have to be tightened up, or tweaked," said Sergi, who sits on the Achieve Hartford! board. But, he added, "We do hope that other urban school districts in the state will follow us... How do you turn to a school principal and hold them accountable for change when you've told them how to spend the money?"
Allan Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the funding model fits "perfectly" with some large districts, but would not necessarily be needed in communities with only a few neighborhood schools. He also commended Hartford's willingness to cooperate with an outside report.
"It's very important that the Hartford school system now welcomes that kind of scrutiny," Taylor said.
Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle are among the school systems nationwide that use a form of student-based budgeting, said Paul Holzer, the Achieve Hartford! executive director.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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