Site menu:


February 2015 - Volume 23, Number 1


Click Here for a pdf verison.



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.

by Nick Gillespie and Todd Krainin

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, facilities, 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.


Reason is a media sponsor of National School Choice Week, January 25 - 31, 2015, which focused attention on how increasing options for students and parents can improve K-12 education. Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of and Reason TV and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America. Todd Krainin is a photographer and documentary videographer with Reprinted with permission, originally published January 28, 2015, <>.


IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD is our quarterly economic forecast, arriving in February, May, August,
and November. It consists of statistics about and analysis of the Iowa economy.


IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD is published by Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College, a
nonpartisan, nonprofit, research and educational institute whose activities are supported by contributions from private individuals, corporations, companies, and foundations. The Institute does not accept government grants.


Contributions are tax-deductible under sections 501(c)(3) and 170 of the Internal Revenue Code.


Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD, a quarterly newsletter of Public Interest Institute.” The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry because IDEAS DO MATTER.




All of our publications are available for sponsorship.  Sponsoring a publication is an excellent way for you to show your support of our efforts to defend liberty and define the proper role of government.  For more information, please contact Public Interest Institute at 319-385-3462 or e-mail us at