10 Jan Dollars: It isn’t just a question of how much
How does budget transparency, or the lack thereof, impact school and classroom level programming for students?
Across states in our nation, property owners pay taxes to provide the youth in their community with an education. While there are many current debates about how much those taxes should be, I don’t often hear debates about how states, districts, and schools should report how those funds are being spent. And I’d like to hear what people have to say about budget transparency.
I currently serve as a program director at an urban high school daring to both extend our school year by 39 instructional days and provide several travel excursions related to what our students are learning in the classroom. While everyone I’ve spoken with about these programming decisions agree that they are good for our students, the biggest questions and concerns arise around cost.
Of the dollars paid per student by the state to our school district, a portion is kept by the district for administrative and facility operating costs. While working to establish a reasonable budget for our students’ travel excursions, many have chuckled at my naiveté when I dare to ask, “How is our district spending the portion of per pupil funding that they keep?”
Perhaps the amplification of district budgeting details, as they pertain to a particular school, would unnecessarily stir up distracting conversation among teachers, administrators, parents, and other school stakeholders. Since district administrators have been hired to make those budget decisions (and hired without the expected collaboration of other school stakeholders), perhaps it would be a moot effort to be more transparent about where exactly the dollars that our district keeps in per pupil funding are spent. Would the can of worms opened by this proposed transparency and resulting conversation end up costing the district more money as they manage the discourse and publicity around their budget decisions?
I’m too in the dark, as a school program director, to know the answers to these questions. I crave the budget transparency that would help me and my colleagues make more effective decisions about instructional programming for our students.
How can policymakers promote more budget transparency between districts and schools?
While each state in our nation has its own right to run its education system independent from any federal expectations, perhaps continuing with the federal theme of incentivizing, The U.S. Department of Education could incentivize budget transparency between districts and the schools/communities they serve. From my point of view, this would allow teachers and program directors to make the most effective decisions about what instructional practices would best serve their particular students.
However, I’m curious to know other peoples’ experiences and thoughts around this budget transparency issue.