Getting more bang for your buck…without being frugal

“From our research, a few things are clear. Perhaps most importantly, 
it is plain that some districts can get more bang for their buck.” 
-Parallel Lives, Different Outcomes: A Twin Study of Academic Productivity in U.S. School Districts 
(Center for American Progress)


No, today’s blog isn’t about savvy shopping or living on a tight budget.  Rather, it’s about schools and districts using funds in a manner that maximizes return on investment – and how State Education Agencies (SEAs) can create an environment that encourages such spending.

In the publication quoted above from the Center for American Progress, the authors studied “twin” districts with similar characteristics, but different per-pupil spending and revenues, and in turn, different academic results.  What they found might be surprise you: More money doesn’t always equate to better results. Another finding from the report: constraints and mandates attached to state and federal money dictated how districts could allocate those resources, leaving very little room for innovation.

The report recommends moving away from these overly structured funding systems – and in fact, there is a growing trend among some SEAs that are moving away from the norm, and trading increased autonomy over funding for increased accountability with their state’s lowest performing schools.

Two of our State Development Network (SDN) states are testing methods to move away from the norm. Colorado, for example, launched a school turnaround network this spring, which raises expectations for improvement while also providing additional resources to the schools within the network. The network schools will remain in district control, unlike the more bold structures in Tennessee and Louisiana. While the network is still in its early phases, eight schools have signed on for the coming school year.

New Jersey goes about spending innovation in a slightly different way: The Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) support improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools using district assurances through Title I funding to drive said funding through the NJDOE’s RACs.

The recommendation in the CAP report parallels a publication we released last year with the Federal Education Group entitled “The Money You Don’t Know You Have for School Turnaround: Maximizing Your Title I Schoolwide Model.”  The toolkit addresses one of our 10 SEA “power levers” for school turnaround: encourage flexible use of all available funds in turnaround schools, specifically through the use of the Title I school-wide model, and using the concept of supplement, not supplant, to increase the impact of funding.

What is your state doing to help your lowest performing schools get the most “bang for their buck”?