Past Event

Fund the Child

A Debate on Weighted Student Formula

4:00 - 6:00 PM EDT

Fund the Child: A Debate on Weighted Student Formula
Will it work and can we do it?

Featured Panelists:
Arlene Ackerman, former superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District and the Christian A. Johnson, Professor at Teacher’s College, Columbia University
Rod Paige, former secretary of education and chairman, Chartwell Education Group
John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress
Michael Rebell, executive director, the Campaign for Educational Equity and Professor of Law and Educational Practice at Teachers College, Columbia University

Moderated by:
John Merrow, president, Learning Matters and contributor to PBS News Hour and Frontline

Overview of Weighted Student Formula proposal:
Cynthia G. Brown, Director of Education Policy, Center for American Progress

Today at the Center for American Progress, five distinguished panelists discussed and debated the weighted student formula—a proposal offered by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The proposal calls for dramatic changes in financing for the public education system. The weighted student formula addresses current imbalances in school funding by reallocating educational spending based on the needs of students.

The panel at today’s event was composed of former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, former San Francisco superintendent Arlene Ackerman, Center for American Progress president John Podesta, and Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational equity.

Every panelist acknowledged that America’s educational system is, in the words of Secretary Paige, “plagued by inequity,” and that a more just distribution of funds is necessary to improve public school systems. Arlene Ackerman noted that children “who have the least, get the least” in terms of education. Statistics showing a nine hundred dollar per student disparity in education funding between the highest and lowest poverty school districts confirm this claim. Cynthia Brown blamed these funding inequalities on government inertia, the high costs of teacher salaries, and “savvy schools” that receive a disproportionate amount of money.

The weighted student formula distributes education funds based on student need. John Podesta gave his full support to this proposal, saying it would “spend money effectively on kids that need it the most.” Michael Rebell disagreed, arguing that the proposal was a smokescreen to distract attention from funding problems, advance school voucher programs, and decrease school funding litigation. Arlene Ackerman vigorously defended the formula, citing the progress of San Francisco schools, and declaring that its implementation would mean greater school choice and a “level playing field” for all students, regardless of income.

Secretary Paige and Arlene Ackerman both warned that although the proposal should be accepted, it is not a “silver bullet” to the educational system’s problems. In their opinion, equally distributing existing resources among students in an effective manner is just as important as increasing the funds themselves.

Friday, September 8, 2006
9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Admission is free

Center for American Progress
1333 H Street, NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC, 20005
Map and Directions

Nearest Metro: Blue/Orange Line to McPherson Square or Red Line to Metro Center



Download a podcast of the event, courtest of PBS:

Read a full transcript of the event:


Arlene Ackerman is currently transitioning from her position as Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District to her new post as the Christian A. Johnson Professor at Teacher’s College, Columbia University (effective September 2006). Dr. Ackerman is nationally recognized for her successful school leadership. San Francisco was one of five finalists for the 2005 Broad Prize for Urban Education, given annually to “the best urban districts in the nation.” Under Ackerman’s leadership, San Francisco Unified also implemented Weighted Student Funding. Dr. Ackerman is the 2005-06 elected chair of the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation’s 65 largest urban school districts, serving 37 million students. She also co-chairs the College Board’s Writing Commission and works closely with the Broad Foundation’s Urban Superintendents Academy. She was named Superintendent for the Year for 2004-05 school year by the National Association of Black School Educators. 

Rod Paige, Ph.D, chairman of Chartwell Education Group LLC, is a trustee of The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005. From 1994 to 2001, Paige served as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), which implemented Weighted Student Funding while under his control. He was the first school superintendent ever to serve as Secretary of Education. Prior to becoming superintendent, Paige served for a decade as dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University (TSU). He began his career with students as a teacher and coach. Born in 1933 in segregated Monticello, Mississippi, Paige earned a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University. He then earned both a master’s and doctoral degree from Indiana University.

John Podesta is the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and visiting professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center. Podesta served as chief of staff to President William J. Clinton from October 1998 until January 2001, where he was responsible for directing, managing, and overseeing all policy development, daily operations, Congressional relations, and staff activities of the White House. He coordinated the work of cabinet agencies with a particular emphasis on the development of federal budget and tax policy, and served in the President’s Cabinet and as a principal on the National Security Council. Podesta has also held a number of positions on Capitol Hill including: counselor to Democratic Leader Senator Thomas A. Daschle; chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee; chief minority counsel for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittees on Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks; Security and Terrorism; and Regulatory Reform; and counsel on the Majority Staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Podesta is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and Knox College.

Michael Rebell is the executive director of The Campaign for Educational Equity and a professor of law and educational practice at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is also a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School. Previously Mr. Rebell co-founded and served as executive director of The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), which won a major constitutional ruling on behalf of New York City public schools. He continues to serve as co-counsel for CFE. Mr. Rebell is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the education adequacy movement in the United States and has pioneered the legal theory and strategy of educational adequacy. He has authored two books, Educational Policymaking and the Courts and Equity and Education and several dozen articles on a wide range of education issues, including educational adequacy, education finance, testing, civic participation, rights of disabled students, and a range of other topics involving law and education. Mr. Rebell is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.

John Merrow began his career as an education reporter with National Public Radio in 1974. While at NPR, he created Options in Education,  a weekly series that received more than two dozen broadcasting awards, including the George Polk Award in 1982. His first television series, Your Children, Our Children, earned an Emmy nomination for Community Service in 1984. From 1985 to 1990, he was education correspondent for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. In 1993 he created The Merrow Report for PBS, followed by the NPR series of the same name in 1997. In 2000 he returned to the NewsHour to provide reports on education, and in 2002 he and his colleagues began producing programs for the PBS series Frontline. Merrow has also received the George Foster Peabody Award, the Hugo Award from the Chicago International Film Festival, two CINE Golden Eagles, eleven consecutive awards from the Education Writers Association, and, in 2005, another Emmy nomination (for Investigative Reporting). In 2000 he received the James L. Fisher Award for Distinguished Service to Education from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. He is the author of Choosing Excellence (Scarecrow, 2001) and co-editor of Declining by Degrees (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2005). He received a BA from Dartmouth College in 1964, an MA in American Studies from Indiana University in 1968, and a doctorate in Education and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1973. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Stockton State College in 1989. Merrow has been a teacher in junior high school, high school, college, graduate school, and federal prison. He is a trustee of Teachers College, Columbia University, former chair of the Alumni Council of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Director of the Education Writers Association. He is president of Learning Matters, a non-profit organization he founded in 1995, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Stanford, California.

Cynthia G. Brown is Director of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. She has also served as Director of the Renewing our Schools, Securing our Future National Task Force on Public Education, a joint initiative of the Center and the Institute for America’s Future. Cindy has spent over 35 years working in a variety of professional positions addressing high-quality, equitable public education. Prior to joining the Center for American Progress, she was an independent education consultant who advised and wrote for local and state school systems, education associations, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and a corporations. From 1986 to 2001, Brown served as director of the Resource Center on Educational Equity of the Council of Chief State School Officers. She was appointed by President Carter as the first assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education (1980). Prior to that position, she served as principal deputy of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s (HEW) Office for Civil Rights. Subsequent to this government service, she was co-director of the nonprofit Equality Center. Before the Carter Administration, she worked for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, the Children’s Defense Fund, and began her career in the HEW Office for Civil Rights as an investigator. Brown has a Master’s in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a B.A. from Oberlin College. She serves as chair of both the Institute for Responsive Education and American Youth Policy Forum Boards of Directors and on the Boards of Directors of the Hyde Leadership Public Charter School and the National Association for Teen Fitness and Exercise.   

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”