Budget Talk: How are Metro schools funded and how do they spend the money? Here's how.
Metro Schools is one of the largest and most diverse school districts in America. It takes nearly 11,000 employees and countless community partners to educate 86,000 students in 166 schools. It also takes a large budget: more than $800 million, or 41 percent of the entire city's operating budget.
We're in the budgeting process for the 2016-2017 school year and we want you to know how schools and the district use taxpayer funds to give students a great education.
At the core of what we do, we believe instructional and support decisions should be made by the educators who know students best and see them every day. Rather than using a centralized, top-down approach, we give principals the authority to both design their own schools and decide how to use their resources to support them. We do it through a funding model called student-based budgeting.
With student-based budgeting, principals have direct control and authority over more than half of the district's operating budget.
This means principals and school leadership teams can make their own major decisions like:
- how many and what kinds of teachers to hire
- whether to hire academic coaches to improve instruction
- what extra supports their students need
- how to offer tutoring
- what kind of software will help improve literacy or math
"Student-based budgeting allows schools the flexibility to prioritize the needs of the school and community and spend funds accordingly," said James Urquhart, principal of Norman Binkley Elementary School. "One size does not fit all."
The 2015-2016 school year marked the first year of district-wide implementation of student-based budgeting. This new way of funding schools supports the district's strategic plan, Education 2018, by empowering principals and giving increased flexibility and discretion for personalized learning and student-centered decisions.
Student-based budgeting explained
Student-Based Budgeting (SBB) has two central components:
- Principals should have the flexibility to create personalized learning environments to meet their students' individual needs.
- Resources should be provided equitably to schools based on the unique needs of those students.
In the 2015-16 school year, every student comes with a fixed amount of funding for his or her school -- $4,250.
On top of that, we have identified student characteristics that are most directly tied to academic achievement and give schools extra money to serve those characteristics.
With that extra money, schools can give more resources to students who need extra support, like English Learners, students with special needs and students with a history of academic struggles. This ensures equitable funding that recognizes not all students are the same.
For example, an student who is learning English comes with another 10 percent raise in funding. A student with a history of poor academic performance will need extra interventions and individual attention, so we add on another 5 to 10 percent, depending on the student’s grade level.
Taken on an individual basis, it may not seem like that much of an increase. But taken together as a school with hundreds or thousands of students, and suddenly principals could have much bigger budgets to use as they see fit.
In fact, when student-based budgeting went district-wide, 60 percent of schools saw more money per student than the year before. The other 40 percent received the same amount.
How do principals use the money?
Personnel. Principals decide how many teachers they need based on their budgets, desired classroom ratios and the specializations they need. They can also choose to add more instructional support by hiring academic coaches, interventionists, classroom assistants and more.
"Allowing schools to use their funds for needs within their own school, we can cater the education for all students at a higher level than we have ever been able to do in the past," said Clint Wilson, principal of Glencliff High School. "It has allowed us to hire additional teachers, thus reducing the teacher to student ratio in some math, English and ELL classes by over 30 percent. It also decreases past barriers of having to go to multiple channels to get what each school needs."
Instructional materials. Apart from people, principals have a wide variety of options available, including campus support, books and instructional supplies, software licenses, as well as extra money for teachers who take on leadership roles within the school.
"We are looking at ways to increase our students’ ACT scores. School-based budgeting allows me to allot funds to purchase practice ACT tests to use as pre-tests for the ACT for our juniors," said Angela McShepard-Ray, principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School. "The funds also allow me to allot funds to pay for an official ACT report for each student that will be used with students to analyze their ACT results and what needs to be the focus of each student to improve his/her ACT score. The post test will be the test district purchases for each junior."
For more on the Metro Schools budget process, visit this webpage.