Student-Based Budgeting — A New Opportunity for Equality & Achievement

In March 2017, School Board members voted in support of a new, innovative student-based funding model that aims to drive academic achievement by empowering school leaders to make funding decisions. SCS will pilot the transformational student-based funding model in several schools in 2018-19, with intentions of scaling up for all schools by 2019-20. Here, Chief of Strategy & Performance Management Brad Leon shares his perspective on why this initiative is so important. 

Brad Leon, SCS Chief of Strategy & Performance Management

I’m often asked why I am such a fervent supporter of the student-based budgeting model for Shelby County Schools. As a community of educators, parents and student-advocates in the Mid-South, I believe we have a duty to serve the children who rely on our school system and grow them into well-educated, informed and engaged citizens.

It is my belief that the move to a student-based budget model will help us achieve this goal by driving innovation, being attentive to student needs and providing equal opportunities for children in every community. 

You may wonder what a student-based budget means for our District. Simply put, a student-based budget puts decision-making power in the hands of our educators at the school level.

 In the past, a standardized staffing model determined what resources every school would receive, regardless of its individual needs. Conversely, the new student-based allocation assigns funding directly to students and then asks school leaders to make strategic decisions that best serve their unique population.

A second, but equally important, reason I am enthusiastic about student-based budgeting is that it reiterates the best impulses of our country – all of our students will receive equal opportunities.

Traditionally, school systems have approached budgeting in ways that mask deep inequity by assigning simple staffing ratios that disproportionately allocate funds. When my team began looking into this several years ago, we found that some schools received 75 percent of the student funding they deserved, while other schools received 275 percent. In no way whatsoever do I believe there was intent to manage the allocations in such an unbalanced way; they were simply the result of staffing ratios that did not attempt to take individual student needs into account, nor truly tie funding to students.

Finally, I believe deeply in student-based budgeting because it can serve as a catalyst to encourage greater community
engagement. Our schools will now operate with the understanding that when a student leaves a school, the funding will leave with them. Thus, schools will be more driven to market their schools in a way that attracts new families. This kind of cause-effect model is similar to how businesses operate globally – incentivizing customer service for clients, which, in our case, are students and their families.

There is no silver bullet in education; though I believe deeply in a student-based allocation, it is not a cure-all. Miracles will not happen overnight; what can take hold overnight is a new approach to strengthening school environments for greater innovation. With this model, our students will be funded fairly and equitably, and there will be a greater level of engagement not only among parents and students, but also the community as a whole. 

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