School Choice

How "Backpack Funding" is Revolutionizing K-12 Education and School Choice

Good things happen when tax dollars follow K-12 students to whatever school they enroll in.


Public schools aren't doing well. Since the early 1970s, we've more than doubled per-pupil spending without increasing test scores for high school seniors. Seems like a problem that's just too big to fix. 

Yet one of the best ideas to radically improve K-12 education in America is so small, it can fit into the backpack of the tiniest first grader. It's called weighted student formula, or backpack funding. Here's how backpack funding works.

Instead of giving a set amount of dollars to a school based on the number of students in a given district, each student is given a certain amount of funding that follows them to whatever school they enroll in.

Students with special needs get extra dollars that follow them. Under the best version of backpack funding, educators have complete flexibility to use the money as they see fit: on more teachers, programs, facility, or whatever they think will help their students succeed.

With such great educational freedom comes great responsibility, too. Schools either perform or parents will take their children—and their dollars—elsewhere. Backpack funding focuses attention and resources exactly where it should be: on the students. And it gives principals, teachers, and parents the chance to find out what works best for each student.

Well over a dozen major school districts have implemented versions of backpack funding, with excellent results. Houston, for instance, has increased its graduation rate by more than 10 percent after giving more control to students and principals.

Kids love to personalize the backpacks they bring to school. Backpack funding lets them, their parents, and their teachers do the same for their education.

Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Todd Krainin. Camera by Meredith Bragg.

About 2 minutes. This video was originally released on January 6, 2015.

Reason is a media sponsor of National School Choice Week, which focuses attention on how increasing options for students and parents can improve K-12 education. It runs from January 25-January 31. For more information, go here.

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  1. …each student is given a certain amount of funding that follows them to whatever school they enroll in.

    That hardly sounds fair. How are substandard school teachers and administrators supposed to compete?

    1. Methinks you hit the nail square on the head.

      The current system reinforces substandard teachers and schools. That’s exactly why so many teachers and administrators are against school choice–because there are just that many substandard teachers and administrators.

  2. But what about the unions?!

    Ooops I mean, You are destroying public education. A cornerstone of our great democracy.

  3. What’s the difference between backpack funding and vouchers?

    1. the letters that make up the words. OWN the vocabulary.

  4. If they did this in my area it would only be another $3k/year to get my kid the best sounding education I’ve heard of.

    Still, however, most of that money comes from other people… so I have a hard time claiming my rights to it.

    1. The money you take from the state comes from the state, not other people. You aren’t violating anyone’s rights.

      That already happened, and whether you take the money from the state or not does not affect that, whatsoever.

  5. Public schools aren’t doing well. Since the early 1970s, we’ve more than doubled per-pupil spending

    Sounds to me like they’re doing quite well, thanks for asking.

  6. I assume the teacher’s unions are going to fight this. AS GKC asked above, how is this different from vouchers? Other than parents can only choose a public school.

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  9. In this multimedia format perhaps you could consider using the print and video parts to convey different aspects of the story. Having them repeat each other verbatim seems a waste of time and bandwidth.

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