Districts give thumbs-up, but CPS stalls on per-pupil budgets

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As CPS budget officials discuss whether to move forward with stalled plans to expand per-pupil budgeting, a new report outlines the benefits of the practice to schools in two California school districts.

A Tale of Two Districts, published by the American Institutes for Research, chronicles how per-pupil budgeting was implemented in San Francisco and Oakland.

As CPS budget officials discuss whether to move forward with stalled plans to expand per-pupil budgeting, a new report outlines the benefits of the practice to schools in two California school districts.

A Tale of Two Districts, published by the American Institutes for Research, chronicles how per-pupil budgeting was implemented in San Francisco and Oakland. With this approach—also called student-based budgeting—schools get a base level of funding for each student, typically with additional money for students with special needs, such as low-income children and bilingual students. The system replaces traditional staffing formulas used by most school districts—including Chicago—to dole out teachers and other resources according to complex formulas based on enrollment and other factors.

The advantages of per-pupil budgeting include extra spending flexibility for schools and increased equity and transparency in spending. (See Catalyst, February 2005.)

Based on interviews with principals, teachers and district leaders, the AIR report found overwhelming support for the practice, despite the additional work load as schools took more responsibility for managing budgets.

One significant benefit outlined in the report: a sharp up-tick in funding for high-poverty middle and high schools in San Francisco and high-poverty elementary schools in Oakland. School leaders in the two cities are also pressuring district budget officers to increase transparency regarding spending on district-level programs.

On the downside, California’s unpredictable state budget process, coupled with an overall shortage of education dollars, greatly complicated school-level budget decisions.

The study also found little evidence that more experienced teachers were migrating to high-poverty schools in Oakland, despite efforts by district officials to encourage such movement. Most districts that have tried per-pupil budgeting, including San Francisco, require schools to pay only the district-wide average salary for each teacher they hire, thus allowing schools to bring veteran, higher-paid teachers on board without having to foot the higher price tag. Districts pick up the rest of the tab for teachers whose salaries are above average. In Oakland, however, schools are required to pay the full cost for every teacher, whether veteran or lower-paid newcomers.

Chicago’s finance director, Pedro Martinez, said three years ago that CPS would convert to per-pupil budgeting by 2007. But a pilot program involving 14 traditional schools has not yet expanded.

 

Posted by: John Myers