Backpack Funding: The Big School Reform That Fits in a Tiny Package


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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.

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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