4.2 Design and Implement Student-Based Budgeting Processes and Supports


+ Student-based budgeting is a critical component of the package of policies that create more autonomy for school leaders.

Student-based budgeting allocates funding to schools based on the number of enrolled students with each student receiving a need-based “weight”. The amount of funding is determined by the weighted student formula, and discretion to use the funding is generally given to the school leader.

Student-based budgeting can greatly increase the transparency, equity, and flexibility of district funding.

+ Effective student-based budgeting requires the right conditions for success including sufficient resources, strong leadership, and an improvement strategy that leverages the flexibility accorded by student-based budgeting to achieve a broader vision.

Student-based budgeting is not necessarily right for every district. Education Resource Services (ERS) outlines the key factors to consider when deciding to pursue student-based budgeting. Below is a quick summary, but please also refer to the study from ERS for a more detailed exploration of student-based budgeting. You can also check out ERS’ website for other useful resources and tools.

Resource Availability and Flexibility: Your district needs enough potentially flexible resources to make school-level budget flexibility a transformational lever (i.e. if resources are constrained by state requirements or collective bargaining agreements such that student-based budgeting will only give principals a marginal increase in control, the effort to implement student-based budgeting may not be worth the payoff).

Capacity at All Levels: At least some principals must be motivated and capable of making use of financial autonomy to make smart, strategic decisions. Central office staff must be able to challenge the status quo and creatively rethink how they will support schools. The district leadership team must have the vision and commitment to face the inevitable challenges that will arise from managing change.

Data Infrastructure: Student-based budgeting requires timely, accurate, and integrated data across finance, human resources, enrollment, and operations. The accuracy and integrity of your district’s data are paramount to a successful rollout of student-based budgeting and ongoing administration to capture the benefits of increased transparency and equity that student-based budgeting can offer.

+ If student-based budgeting might be a fit for your district, the next step is identifying a project team to manage the work.

This section summarizes a rich discussion of team and rollout developed by ERS - please refer to these materials for more detail. Student-based budgeting is a significant project that requires policy changes and the implementation across multiple functional areas.

Successful implementation will likely require a dedicated project manager with sufficient content knowledge, seniority, and cross-functional relationships to build credibility and oversee this work.

A finance liaison is another important role, given that the majority of the student-based budgeting work will be undertaken by the district’s finance team. This individual needs to have deep knowledge of the district’s budget, an understanding of the vision behind student-based budgeting, and strong analytic skills.

As with other SGS work, student-based budgeting implicates multiple divisions. Districts should consider starting a cross-functional team to inform development and implementation.

For more information, refer to the Sub-lever 4.2 materials in the Resource Exchange and be sure to check out ERS’s comprehensive treatment of student-based budgeting on their website.