Defining Equity: Implementing the Weighted Student Formula in Chicago Public Schools

Abstract

Pedro Martinez is the Budget Director of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third-largest school district in the country. With the support of the Chicago mayor and CPS's CEO, Martinez wants to implement a new budgeting system in the district, starting with the schools that the district is building and reforming as part of Renaissance 2010, an initiative to restructure and revitalize 100 schools in Chicago.

The new budgeting system called the Weighted Student Formula (WSF), or per-pupil budgeting, would set a base allocation for every student in the district, and then add certain "weights" depending on student need, such as level of disability, free/reduced lunch status, and English language learners (ELLs).

Martinez believes that the new system will not only distribute funds more equitably, but will also solve many of the funding inefficiencies in the district. However, he is up against significant opposition from some parents, teachers, and unions who feel that redistributing funds will have no impact on student performance and will take significant amounts of funding away from many existing schools. They claim that it is an expensive way to test a new method that has no proven effect on student performance.

The case examines briefly a number of the issues that contribute to the complexity of the situation and to Martinez's challenges. The case ends with Martinez facing the decision of whether to use the new system, how to get broader public support, how to determine an appropriate and equitable weighting formula, and how to prove impact on performance. There is no resolution to the case, just as there has been no resolution in reality as of 2006. CPS has continued to struggle to implement the Renaissance 2010 initiative, manage its overextended budget, and successfully implement the Weighted Student Formula. Professors and students using this case are urged visit the CPS website and other resources to get the most current information.

This case was developed to be taught in graduate level Public Management Budgeting and Financing classes.

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