Smart School Budgeting: Resources for Districts

October 2012

In an era of aggressive public education reform, school districts face increasing pressure to produce higher levels of student performance with increasingly limited resources. The economic downturn has forced many districts to tighten their belts, and careful thought must be given to how each and every dollar is spent. Optimally, district leaders should work with stakeholders in their communities to set goals, analyze current spending, provide transparency in their budgeting, and consider cost-saving and reallocation strategies.

The Rennie Center has created a toolkit, Smart School Budgeting: Resources for Districts, aiming to assist district leaders in decision-making about school budgeting. Smart School Budgeting is intended to push school leaders to take a more deliberative approach to school budgeting. The resources presented in the toolkit act as a starting point for districts examining their own budgeting processes. The document is designed as a user-friendly summary of existing literature and tools on school finance, budgeting, and resource allocation that directs district leaders and school business officials to practical and useful information to shape resource decisions. Each section includes an overview of a critical topic in school budgeting, summaries of useful documents and resources, relevant case studies (if available), and a resource list with hyperlinked documents for easy access. The toolkit is organized around the following topics: introduction and context for school budget analysis; setting goals; types of budgets; strategies for analyzing spending; tools for budget analysis; and cost-saving strategies.

This toolkit was released at a public event on October 3, 2012.

Interactive Map

Below is an interactive map exploring school spending in Massachusetts school districts—select the image to begin exploring. This map presents per pupil spending data in Massachusetts and presents an opportunity to compare spending across school districts and categories. It also exemplifies the type of critical analysis on school spending promoted through the Smart School Budgeting guide.

Too often the budget critique focuses on total per pupil spending without an understanding of the deeper context of school budgeting or inputs. Ideally, districts should use comprehensive information to examine how spending is allocated across categories and develop data-driven budgets that link inputs and desired outcomes. The purpose of this map is to highlight how spending in educational categories varies across Massachusetts districts.

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