Implementation of the Weighted Student Formula Policy in San Francisco: A Descriptive Study of an Equity-Driven, Student-Based Planning and Budgeting Policy

Primary Researchers: Jay Chambers, Larisa Shambaugh, Danielle DeLancey

Publication Date: August 2008

Since state and federal policies hold individual schools accountable for student performance, policies that provide differentiated funding and greater discretion to schools have gained importance. Historically, districts allocated resources at the school level using standardized staffing ratios. However, some districts have now implemented policies such as the weighted student formula (WSF) that shift responsibility for allocating resources away from the central office toward schools.

WSF allocates resources based on differentiated student needs, with more money assigned to students who traditionally need additional resources such as low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities. In addition to receiving resources based on the composition of the school student populations, schools gain budgetary and curricular autonomy.

The study, conducted by the American Institutes for Research for REL West at WestEd, explores how the San Francisco Unified School District implemented a WSF policy as a pilot program in 2001/02 and then as a districtwide program in 2002/03. It examines the district's policy goals, planning and implementation considerations, and how the policy interacted with other local, state, and federal policies. 

Research Questions

The study addresses the following research questions:

  • What are the goals of San Francisco's WSF policy?
  • What considerations did San Francisco face in planning and implementing the WSF policy?
  • How does San Francisco's WSF policy interact with other local, state, and federal education reform policies?
  • What have school and district officials learned from San Francisco's implementation of a WSF policy?
  • What are the main areas for further research of WSF policies?


Researchers at the American Institutes for Research collected information for this study from a variety of sources, including reviews of the literature on WSF policies, relevant district documents, semistructured conversations with a small cross-section of district stakeholders, a focus group with school site council members, and observations of district training sessions.

Key Findings

The study yielded the following key findings:

  • San Francisco implemented a WSF policy to increase equity and the effectiveness of decision-making.
  • Key considerations in implementing San Francisco's WSF policy included calculating school allocations and school salaries, determining school-level discretion, establishing links with the academic planning process, ensuring district and school participation, building school site capacity, and encouraging community involvement.
  • Education reform programs at the local (school supervision and intervention, labor contracts, and enrollment policies), state (categorical programs and budget cycles), and federal (the No Child Left Behind Act) levels affected San Francisco's WSF policy.
  • The WSF policy has been widely accepted among educators. However, school and district officials have learned that the policy requires more frequent and comprehensive review and the WSF policy cannot offset declining federal, state, and local school district revenues.
  • Further research might explore how WSF policies may burden administrators, vary in implementation in different types of district, and affect the district's distribution of resources over time.
  • Published: August 2008
  • Research Type: Issues & Answers
  • Methodologies: Case Study
  • Contact info:
    Catherine Walcott 415.615.3184

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