Student-Based Budgeting

It makes intuitive sense that student needs will drive a school’s needs. It makes further sense that budgeting should be based on need.

That’s not how school budgeting typically works. For the most part, budgeting is driven simply by head count. Schools are allocated FTE based on the head count. It’s a simplistic way to approximate fairness. But, simplistic fairness isn’t always the best way to maximize children’s educational experiences.

The Poudre School System (Fort Collins and surrounding communities) is shifting toward a different approach. They have developed a set of need based criteria to determine how to allocate instructional dollars to schools (see attached). Items such as transportation, facilities maintenance, and staff development are not included in this allocation.

Principals and teachers on school leadership teams direct how these dollars are used to meet the needs of their students. There aren’t rigid staffing formulas. If the student population’s needs and interests change from one year to the next. Principals and leadership teams have the discretion to direct their dollars as they see fit.

Poudre administrators say that another advantage of this approach is transparency. It’s far easier for the public to see where dollars are flowing and why.

The district can make adjustments to the funding formula to target dollars strategically. For instance, if boys fall behind girls and the district wants to close that gap, dollars can be allocated accordingly.

The only point of resistance came from principals who were particularly skilled at advocating for dollars under the old system.

Seattle, Houston and Edmonton, Canada use similar models. For those who are interested, William Ouchi details work in these cities in his book Making Schools Work.

My take away: Student-based budgeting is something worth considering as part of a systemic/policy effort to support differentiated learning. Also, giving principals and teachers the tools to make good decisions is far more valuable than threats and public ridicule.

Here is the link to Poudre’s funding formula.

Download poudre_funding.tif

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One Response to “Student-Based Budgeting”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, your assertion that, “for the most part, budgeting is driven simply by head count,” certainly is far from true in St. Vrain. Nor has it been true for a long time.
    St. Vrain uses a failurist model, where low performing schools get bonus money at the expense of the competent and excellent. Furthermore, this comment refers just to general fund teacher funding; the low-performing schools also get enormous sums of money for English-language instruction, free lunches and so on.

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