Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), school districts facing achievement challenges are now required to run resource allocation reviews to better understand the barriers their students face and how to address them. Yet for many district leaders, resource allocation reviews are a new endeavor. So, states have an opportunity to lead the way in shaping and supporting these reviews, particularly for districts with turnaround schools that need extra support to improve performance.
Our recent partnership with the state of Louisiana provides an example of how ESSA’s resource allocation reviews could be a boon for turnaround schools.
In late 2019, the state of Louisiana supported three of its districts in understanding their resources by partnering with ERS to conduct a series of Budget Blitzes: Week-long sessions during which ERS team members dove deep into districts’ resource use and allocation, identifying challenges and key opportunities for growth. We worked with the rural school districts of Allen Parish, Lincoln Parish, and Assumption Parish, the latter two of which have a number of schools marked for turnaround.
Facing challenges with concentrated poverty, low funding, and persistent enrollment decline, systems leaders at Assumption Parish worked with ERS to leverage available resources and drive improvement across the district. ERS identified seven elements that every good ESSA resource allocation review should have — and in many ways, our Blitz in Assumption Parish mirrored these steps.
One of our team’s first steps was to dig into the district’s funding across all sources--not just funds dedicated to school improvement, but also federal, state, and local funding. About 9% of Assumption Parish’s budget came from the Super App, a federal fund that represents special programs like Title I and motivated the state’s decision to partner with ERS. Examining funding from all sources allowed our team to see a fuller landscape of budget opportunities in the district — an important piece, too, in ESSA-mandated resource reviews.
Funding, however, is only one part of the picture, and a successful resource allocation review should look beyond budget to other dimensions of equity that impact students’ experiences in schools. In Assumption Parish, this meant exploring student diversity, teacher retention, and professional development strategies. For example, they found that teachers leave the district at higher rates than teachers in peer districts, leading to high faculty turnover.
Looking at these results helped the ERS team and district leadership to identify opportunities for allocating available resources more equitably across categories. And the collaboration went beyond these two groups — upon reviewing the findings, the Assumption Parish team made plans to engage a wide range of stakeholders, from the school board to community members, to build support and trust around their results.
“We have used the findings in our strategic planning meetings here in the district,” said Cindy Blanchard, teacher pipeline specialist at Assumption Parish, sharing that “principals [and other school leaders] were very excited to see what the findings were.”
In any school district, conducting a resource review allows leaders to look closely at people, time, and money to determine a more effective plan for resource allocation. Assumption Parish identified opportunities to increase support for its large number of new teachers; rethink compensation to be more competitive with surrounding districts; and reorganize school schedules to create more time for individualized student support, among other findings.
While the Budget Blitzes in Louisiana were not ESSA-mandated, they are an example of a state taking an active role in supporting the growth of its districts. If more states step in to provide guidance for their districts during resource allocation reviews, the resource allocation review process can move beyond a compliance exercise to a major opportunity to achieve resource equity for every school and student.
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