EDL 5500 Financial Resources for School Improvement

EDL 5500 Financial Resources for School Improvement

School Budgeting: Traditional Methods and Reform Initiatives

Up to this point in this class, we have examined things like funding streams at the federal, state, and local levels.  We have looked at how the state provides major funding through its Minimum Foundation Program.  We have also analyzed district budgets.  Throughout, there have been some underlying themes, like equity and control of funds, that have permeated the discussion.  It is now time to explore school budgeting from the perspective of what historically occurs and by looking at a most recent trend in which principals are provided more autonomy over spending, allowing them (at least in theory) to have a more significant impact on achieving district strategic goals, school goals, and the actual academic achievement of students.  This will be about exploring the possibilities of reform, discerning the perceptions of the value of traditional methods versus reform methods, and ultimately, creating your own beliefs about the topic.

Step One

Read the following…

Cycle-Based Budgeting Toolkit: A Primer – This brief introduces us to the concepts of norm-based spending and flexible spending; incremental budgeting and zero-based budgeting; and the concept of cycle-based budgeting.  It is a good way to start thinking about how you would want your budget to be operated as a principal of a school and as someone like a superintendent who may believe that traditional ways of providing funding to schools have not worked well in allowing principals to make high quality decisions about how to run a school in regard to how money is spent on faculty, staff, and programs designed to increase the academic achievement of students.  Cycle-based budgeting is an interesting concept that truly changes the parameters of how most school budgeting occurs in Louisiana and the nation.  It is one of many ideas for improving the way things are typically done.  Though there are similarities, it is in many ways different from a growing trend in education finance reform, student-based budgeting, which the following are about.

Transforming School Funding: A Guide to Implementing Student-Based Budgeting (SBB) – This guide introduces us to the concept of Student-Based Budgeting (SBB).  It does a very good job of providing clear definitions of the concept; outlining processes that need to be undertaken if SBB will be implemented; suggesting which types of support will be needed for principals; helping a district identify whether or not SBB would be beneficial for it to implement; how roles at the district level and school level would need to change; and keys to success in regard to SBB.  In fact, SBB is a relatively new concept in Louisiana and supported by the philosophy that local control is the best control because it is principals who are closest to the work and, therefore, the ones most capable of making good decisions about how to utilize funds.  This is not a common practice in our state, but is often associated with charter schools which are designed (at least in theory) to operate independently, without red tape, and with the ability to make key decisions without what many people regard as traditional, hierarchical barriers and potentially oppressive oversight.

Funding a Better Education: Conclusions from the First Three Years of Student-Based Budgeting in Hartford – This study concludes that the public school system in Hartford, Connecticut has implemented major principles of SBB.  SBB was implemented by a superintendent who saw a need to do something different based on many of the ideas and philosophy of SBB mentioned above.  It provides statistics about student academic achievement that spurred implementation.  This is a great example of decision-making based on what most scholars (and likely, all of us) would agree it should be based on: student results.  One thing that is lacking here, unfortunately, is a follow up to that student achievement data.  Hartford has implemented SBB for what it saw as the right reasons, but it would be very nice to see if the reform paid off in actual student results.  One other aspect of note in this study is the transparency of the authors in writing about the limitations of Hartford’s venture into SBB, while also providing recommendations for improving implementation.

Step Two (The Assignment)

Part One – The Possibilities of Reform

Based on the readings above, write an expository paper about the following:

Based on your analysis of traditional methods of school budgeting and reform efforts like Cycle-Based Budgeting and Student-Based Budgeting, from your perspective as a principal of a school, make your case for the ability to be in control of your school’s finances.  Think about this in the context of hiring faculty (e.g., assistant principals, deans, department chairs, teacher coaches, teachers, paraprofessionals, other professional educators, etc.) staff (e.g., administrative assistants, custodians, etc.), and contracting with special services (e.g., social workers, nurses, mental health experts).  Think about this in the context of how you would go about implementing staff development initiatives and implementing innovative programs designed to increase adult and student learning on your campus (i.e., your instructional leader role as principal).  Carefully present your goals and strategic vision for undertaking this finance reform initiative (e.g., adult learning, student achievement, school performance scores, developing a school’s culture, etc.)

Part Two – The Reality Check

Conduct an interview with your principal and take no more than 10-15 minutes of his or her time doing so.  Provide your principal with the context for the interview (e.g., that you are studying some reform initiatives in regard to school budgeting and are wanting to get his or her perspective about how things are done and how he or she prefers them to be done).  Ask the following questions, or some version you consider to be better:

Considering all of the money that is used to fund the school (facilities, staffing, instruction, etc.), what percentage of that money do you feel like you can actually control when it comes to making decisions about the school?

Imagine if you would be given total control of how the money is spent, would you want that power and authority?  Why or why not?  What do you perceive to be the advantages and disadvantages of that power and authority?

What are some of the things, in regard to the school budget, that you feel you do have control over?  Do you believe that is sufficient for you to be successful?

Students, in your most recent discussion board forum, you were asked to come up with questions about district/school budgeting.  This is your opportunity to ask questions of a principal.  Choose at least two of the questions to ask your principal (these may need to be modified to be for a principal, as opposed to a chief financial officer of a district) and provide his or her response to them.

Part Three – Your Belief

Based on the case you made in your paper about school finance reform and its possibilities and based on your speaking to your principal about his or her beliefs based on the realities of the job, what is it that you truly desire for yourself as a principal in regard to the school’s budget?  Make your case for your desired reality.

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