STRATEGY: Reallocate budgets to adopt new and effective resources that align with standards, learning objectives, and priority areas of improvement.
A more deliberative and thoughtful approach to school budgeting can lead to more efficient and effective spending and a greater focus on student outcomes. As the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy wrote, “In an era of aggressive public education reform, it is important to ask not only whether new initiatives are effective in raising student achievement but also how they can best maximize current investments in teaching and learning.” Schools and districts should use comprehensive information systems from which data-driven budgets that link spending to outcomes can be developed. By ensuring that budgets are malleable and able to accommodate change, schools and districts can respond to opportunities with precision.
As AASA’s Noelle Ellerson wrote, “The school budget—and accompanying process—provides school districts and their leaders with an opportunity to justify the collection and expenditure of public funds. In its most simple definition, a school budget describes a district’s plan for the upcoming year as related to anticipated revenues and expenditures. School budgets allow districts to translate sometimes intangible missions, operations, and objectives into reality by outlining and providing specific programs and funding/financial terms.” It is that turning of the intangible into reality that is at the heart of an effective, student-focused budget, one that details priorities and outlines strategies that will improve student performance and serve as a guide for making changes.
When developing a budget, resource allocation decisions can be improved when desired outcomes are articulated, with both associated costs and benefits understood and measured. It can be a much more involved process than past budgeting practices, and so takes more time and more involvement of others. It can, however, lead to varied positive outcomes, such as constituent involvement, increased transparency, and ideally improved student achievement. To successfully reallocate a budget that aligns with standards, learning objectives, and priority areas of improvement, schools need to examine disaggregated data on student performance outcomes, embracing those programs and activities that will be most beneficial for their students. Effective schools also consider environmental and contextual circumstances of the school or district. They also continuously track where money is allocated, assess which resources are available, and align spending with goals, with academic performance improvement at the top of the list.
First Steps to Consider
- Understand and quantify the needs, priorities, and goals of all students by examining disaggregated data on student performance outcomes. Use results to modify current allocation strategies.
- Review how other schools and districts create student-based budgets. Determine best practices and put them to work.
- Engage a wide range of constituents in the budgeting process.
- Ensure that costs and associated benefits are both understood and measurable.
- Implement an information system that links school spending and student performance.
Complexities & Pitfalls
- Education leaders who make changes in schools often encounter distrustful stakeholders who are opposed to the changes, regardless of evidence.
- Some schools do not include continuous improvement as a part of the budgeting and planning process.
- Funding arrangements and budget models can be so complex that it is difficult to use resources strategically or track their effects.
- Are the current initiatives being implemented effectively, and are they raising student performance?
- Is the current budget driven by data and linked to educational outcomes?
- What current threats and opportunities exist for the school and district? How might these threats and opportunities (as part of a SWOT analysis) impact the budget and budgeting process?
- How will the school balance short-term funding with an increasing sense of urgency?
- Do the identified resources target the academic performance improvement needs?