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Shelby County Schools commits to equitable funding plan

Shelby County Schools board approves ERS to work with district to identify areas to eliminate inequity in transition to student based budgeting

View the story as it orginally appeared in the Commercial Appeal.

The Shelby County Schools board on Tuesday committed to rethinking the way it funnels dollars into schools, aiming for a formula focused on equity instead of equality.

The board passed a resolution supporting a transition to student-based budgeting, a massive overhaul of the way the district allocates money. While the resolution acknowledges the possibility for "winners and losers"—redistributing dollars means some schools may lose funding—Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said SCS will work to mitigate those losses.

"I don’t think there’s really any cause for concern," Hopson said following the vote, which was unanimous as part of a longer list of consent agenda items.

Schools that could see losses may be ones with lower populations of impoverished students, or ones with more veteran teachers at the top of their pay scales. The district will have to come up with a formula that weighs the needs of students, instead of a flat-rate distribution of funds based on enrollment.

Hopson said the district will soften any possible blows with "transition" dollars that will offset the losses for a few years. Consultants also suggested putting a cap on the amount of money one school could lose, such as the equivalent of two teaching positions for example.

Several districts across the country, including Metro Nashville Public Schools, employ student-based budgeting practices, which Hopson said is to his district's benefit.

"I think because we’re doing it at the time we are, we know what to look for," he said.

Schools that inherently receive more resources, like Innovation Zone turnaround program schools that cost about an extra $600,000 per year, would likely not lose funding because of the high needs of their student populations, Hopson said.

"From the initial discussion, we’re not overly concerned there’s going to be a drastic reduction in those schools," he said.

The district will select a handful of schools to pilot the system, which gives power to principals to spend money in their schools to meet the needs of their students.

The district has a contract for $99,000 with Education Resource Strategies consulting group to study how the district funds schools now and the inequities that system creates. Hopson said several hundred thousand dollars in philanthropic money will cover the remaining costs of implementing student-based budgeting. But those groups wanted to see a commitment from the board to move forward.

Hopson said Tuesday's vote was that commitment.

"This is just kind of the initial kickoff," he said.

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