Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Anthony Picciano

Subject Categories

Educational Administration and Supervision | Education Policy


Children First Reforms, Fair Student Funding, Joel Klein, NYC Department of Education, Portfolio Management Model, Weighted Student Funding


During the first decade of the 21st century, Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw a radical transformation of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) into a portfolio management district in which the primary responsibility of the NYCDOE was not to develop the capacity of school leaders or teachers, but instead to create a marketplace through which strong schools could be created and failing schools could be closed. Central to these reforms was a focus on the individual school as the site of both reform and accountability. In a 2006 interview with William Ouchi (2009), Joel Klein declared, "The school is the unit that matters" (p. 104). As Ouchi goes on to explain, "New York City's strategy was to improve student performance by allowing each school to elevate itself in its own unique way. The basic theory was that every school, given proper freedom and accountability with skilled leadership from the principal, will improve" (p. 104). As Leslie Santee Siskin (2012) notes, the mantra that was repeated throughout the Department of Education during the early years of Chancellor Klein's tenure was that the goal was to create a "system comprised of great schools, not a great school system" (p. 188).

In order to hold individual schools accountable for results, the NYCDOE needed to restructure its school funding process to account for differences in student need. In announcing the proposal for Fair Student Funding, which would differentiate funding based on student characteristics, Chancellor Klein explained, "I think it's important to the city that we can say that we are being equitable, we are being transparent, and we are treating kids who are in a similar situation the same" (Foley, 2010).

In theory, Fair Student Funding provides every school with the resources needed to educate its specific student population, and thus a principal has everything that he or she needs to meet specific, quantifiable outcomes. Yet despite the intention of Fair Student Funding to create a transparent and equitable system, the percentage of Fair Student Funding that a school receives varies anywhere from 81 percent to 134 percent. Of the 451 high school budgets examined, 8.5 percent (n=38) were fully funded, with the median funding amount being 86.19 percent. Furthermore, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between the percentage of Fair Student Funding a school receives and its percentage of low-income students, percentage of English language learners and the size of the school. That is, the higher the percentage of low-income students, the higher percentage of English language learners, or the larger the school, the lower the percentage of Fair Student Funding the school receives.

Despite the pretense of transparency throughout the Children First reforms, Chancellor Klein made a number of policy decisions that privileged some schools over others and that ultimately reinforced some of the very funding inequities that Fair Student Funding was intended to address. Perhaps no decision was more important to the success of small schools, and to instantiating certain funding inequities, than the decision to bring in new schools at 100 percent of Fair Student Funding as opposed to the citywide average. In order to understand why Chancellor Klein made this decision, and why Fair Student Funding did not live up to its promise, it is important to contextualize its implementation within the following educational trends: 1) neoliberalism and a focus on individual schools as sites of reform; 2) the development of a portfolio management model that focuses on accountability as opposed to capacity building; and 3) the implementation of mayoral control and the neoliberal myth of political neutrality.