Welcome to the first blog post in our Strategic Budgeting series. We plan to update this series weekly, with different information about how local education agencies (LEAs – often just referred to as school districts) can more strategically think about budgeting and finance issues. We are from the Region 5 Comprehensive Center, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide technical assistance and capacity building support to state and local education agencies. The views expressed in this blog series do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or any other organization that might refer readers to the series.
Why Strategic Budgeting?
While anyone who is interested in reading these blog posts is welcome to do so, our target audience is public education officials who help shape their education budget. We hope this series provides you with tools to step back from the day-to-day budgetary concerns and allow you to do things like:
- Maximize the use of all resources
- Find resources for meeting increasing costs with limited revenues
- Better target resources for meeting the needs of students
- Manage uncertainty around future funding (including incorporating one-time infusions of cash)
The Five Elements of Strategic Budgeting
We’ve divided the concepts of Strategic Budgeting into five key elements:
- Identifying Vision and Goals
- Assessing Resources
- Using Data
- Communicating With District
- Continuous Improvement
This graphic displays how each of the five elements interact with one another.
As you can see, Identifying Vision and Goals, Assessing Resources, and Using Data are all activities that interact with one another. They all contribute to, and are informed by, Communicating With District staff. And, all four of these are enveloped in a Continuous Improvement approach.
More about each element
In short, Vision and Goals refers to whether your district has a clearly articulated vision or mission statement, and associated goals. If not, we’ll discuss how to get that ball rolling. If it does, is it still relevant given COVID-19? We recommend districts revisit their mission, vision, and goals approximately every 3-5 years (or as circumstances demand).
Assessing Resources involves determining how well current resource allocations are aligned with the vision and mission. Those determinations can be made using data as well as your professional judgment. In addition, recent federal infusions of resources can offer opportunities to leverage those funds into long-term improvements. Also, budgetary changes due to COVID-19 give you an opportunity to define a “new normal” to provide the greatest long-term value to your district.
Using Data simply means that after you’ve assessed your resources, you can identify research-supported and cost-effective alternative programs and strategies. This can be done with tools like What Works Clearinghouse or Edutopia, by comparing your practices against nearby high performers, or using processes like cost-effectiveness or return on investment analysis.
Communication between the district and your broader community is essential to both plan and execute your priorities. It helps to think carefully about how and when to bring different stakeholders into the conversation. In addition, you may find a need to thoroughly explain decisions and why alternatives might be employed, as opposed to previous plans. Districts also need to be sure to gain and disseminate the best information on, and implications of, state and federal decisions.
Finally, a Continuous Improvement approach allows you to evaluate, modify, or replace less effective or ineffective programs. It sets the expectations that you’ll regularly measure programs and strategies to determine how well they’re working, modify what’s not working, and replace programs when modifications don’t help. You can use tools like cost effectiveness or return on investment analysis for these types of decisions.
In future posts, we’re going to go through each of the five elements in more detail. We hope you join us. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions or suggestions. You can reach us at BradKeller@westat.com.
New posts will appear on the Comprehensive Center Network (CCNetwork) website in the Blog & News section on Monday mornings, so feel free to bookmark the page. You can click here to read the next post in this series. In future posts, we will provide a link to this and other previous posts, for people who join in the middle of the conversation.
Keeping up with our posts
If you would like to be notified when new posts in this series are published, please email BradKeller@westat.com and ask to be put on the notification list.
To extend this conversation further, follow and use the hashtag #R5OfficeHours on Twitter.
We plan on monthly “office hours” where you can join live with the authors (virtually), to ask questions, provide feedback, and discuss the topics explored in this series. Office hours are always the last Tuesday of the month, at 1 pm Eastern Time. You can click here to register and add the event to your calendar. This month’s office hour is Tuesday, September 28 at 1 pm Eastern Time/Noon Central Time.
This blog post is in the public domain. While permission to reprint is not necessary, publication should be cited. The blog post is prepared by the Region 5 Comprehensive Center under Award #S283B190030 for the Office of Program and Grantee Support Services (PGSS) within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) of the U.S. Department of Education, and is administered by Westat. The content of the blog post does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the PGSS or OESE or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. © 2021 Westat.