- The Smarter School Spending coalition — which launched as a pilot of the Government Finance Officers Association in 2013 and now includes more than 60 K-12 districts nationwide — aims to help districts ensure their most important priorities can be covered within their budgets, Education Week reports.
- The network unites budget and program staff with activities like joint training and model budgets to focus on lining up spending with educational goals, testing their sustainability and measuring return-on-investment.
- One district's efforts, for example, have involved a group of budget staff members, administrators and curriculum leaders going beyond reliance on formulas to examine historical costs of programs, how they align to requirements from the federal to district levels, and whether those in place for at least three years have remained effective and relevant.
It's no secret that many districts struggle with funding. For many states, funding still lags behind pre-recession levels a decade after the 2008 financial crisis. Coupled with funding formulas that are often based on property tax values, this can leave schools in less-affluent areas in a particular pinch.
District coalitions and collaboratives are doing more than helping each other figure out how to make their budgets work for their priorities, though: They've also helped districts negotiate better prices on goods and services through collective bargaining.
Additionally, funding systems have required schools and districts to get more creative in making ends meet. For some, this has involved forging partnerships with local industry, corporations and nonprofit organizations to facilitate various programs and supplies. Crowdsourcing has also become popular among some educators for financing a variety of supplies, though that method has also raised the question of whether the public should be OK with teachers essentially having to beg online for funding.
In the long run, administrators will likely have to use historical funding and outcomes evidence like that being gathered by districts in the Smarter School Spending coalition, coupled with raising grass roots support in the community, to sway policymakers on the value of raising funding levels overall.