Oct 25, 2021

Strategic Budgeting: Using Data, Part 1

Mark Fermanich
Illustration of different data visualizations coming out of a computer


Welcome to the sixth blog post in the Region 5 Comprehensive Center’s Strategic Budgeting series.  In these posts we will be walking through the five elements of Strategic Budgeting, to help provide additional tools to local education officials who want to think more strategically about how to use their resources. The five elements of Strategic Budgeting are:

Five Element graphic showing the circular connections among the elements. List of five elements. Identifying Vision and Goals, Assessing Resources, Using Data, Communicating with District, Continuous Improvement

Using data icon


Today’s post is the first of two about Using Data. We discuss how your district may use data to identify more effective ways of allocating scarce resources. Our next blog post will look specifically at cost-effectiveness, a method for comparing which programs generate the most improvement per dollar.


Using Data to Inform Decisions Around Allocating Resources

Using data strategically is a foundational thread running through all five of the strategic budgeting elements and should inform decision-making at every step in the process. There are both macro and micro levels to using data to inform resource allocation decisions.

Illustration of people in front of different types of data visualizations


Macro Level

The macro level represents a system-wide view of resources. For example, analyzing student achievement data is necessary when updating the district’s vision and goals because it allows your district to understand where you are, where you want to be, where you are falling short, and what you need to address to get there. This data may show that students are doing well in the early elementary grades but falling behind in middle school. Or, that certain student groups are consistently failing to earn the credits necessary for graduating high school on time. Other important data may include input from parents, community members, and local employers. When assessing how well current resources are being used, data analysis is essential for understanding the alignment of district goals and district spending.

This level generally corresponds to the function and program categories used in your budget. Questions at the macro level may include:

  • How does your district’s spending on central office services compare to higher-performing peer districts? How does your spending on instruction compare?
  • Within instruction, how does your share of spending for overall instruction and special instruction compare to peer districts?

This information can be used to determine how your district’s allocation of resources compares to other districts, possibly revealing areas of potential over-investment that may warrant further study. The result may lead to improved efficiencies in one or more areas, freeing up resources for supporting higher priority goals. 

Many state education agencies provide publicly available school district expenditure databases organized at the function and program levels. Some states also compile district staffing databases that show the number of FTE by position category. These data may be used to dig into how staffing levels in your district compare to peer districts.

Kentucky’s School Report Card can be found here.  The School Report Card data provides a convenient way for districts and schools to compare themselves to demographically similar districts in terms of student achievement, educational opportunity, staffing, and finances.

The National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education collects  staffing data on districts nation-wide.


Micro Level

At the micro level, data are used to assess the effectiveness of different instructional approaches, programs, or interventions. Information on the effectiveness of educational strategies, programs, or interventions is determined through research studies aimed at measuring their “impact,” or the effect the program has on student learning or other outcomes of interest. Initially, this information is most often obtained from external studies, but districts should also conduct their own evaluations of their programs on an on-going basis to assess how well these programs are serving their students and whether new approaches may be necessary. Questions at the micro level may include:

  • Which elementary remedial reading programs does research show to be the most effective at improving reading proficiency among students similar to ours?
  • What is the most effective tutoring strategy for students falling behind grade level in one or more subject areas?
  • What are the best professional development approaches for training classroom teachers to effectively use data for differentiating instruction?

Impact research on the effectiveness of educational approaches, programs, or interventions may be obtained from several different sources. These include the What Works Clearinghouse provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences; peer reviewed academic journals – often subject area specific journals - focusing on evaluations of educational programs; and literature reviews supporting evidence-based school models.   


Some Helpful Resources

The following resources may be helpful in the process of assessing and benchmarking district resources.

  • U.S. Census Bureau’s annual survey of public-school finances provides district-level revenue and expenditure data along with other information such as teacher salaries. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances/data.html
  • School level expenditure data for 49 states and the District of Columbia from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. Expenditures are not broken out by function, program, or object, but could be useful for comparing spending differences across school levels and schools of different enrollment sizes. https://edunomicslab.org/nerds/


Next Week’s Blog Post

In our next post, we will introduce cost-effectiveness analysis. Cost-effectiveness analysis is a tool that may be used by districts to compare both the effectiveness and costs of two or more program alternatives with similar objectives. A cost-effectiveness analysis can help decisionmakers identify programs that are not only effective, but also financially efficient.  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



Bread Crumbs/Wayfinding

New posts will appear here on Monday mornings, so feel free to bookmark that page.  This is the sixth post in the series; if you want to start at the beginning of the series, go hereThe previous post was the second half of this discussion about assessing resources and can be found here. The next post in this series is available here.

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. 

Office Hours

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.  You can click here to register and add the event to your calendar.  This month’s Office Hour is Tuesday October 26th at 1 PM Eastern/Noon Central Time. 

Legal stuff

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.

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