WATERTOWN, MA—November 10, 2011: District budgets cuts don’t have to mean giving up on making systemic improvements according to a new online game just released by the nonprofit organization Education Resource Strategies (ERS). Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the game consists of a series of “cards” that represent savings and investments that school districts face. The object of the game is to select a hand that combines strategic budget reductions and includes investments for improved performance. The player learns the kind of impact various choices have and why some choices will be better than others.
“We know how much districts are struggling, but they simply can’t decide that their only option is to do less with less,” says Karen Hawley Miles, Executive Director of ERS. “School Budget Hold’em is about being clear about the system vision, the spending patterns, practices and structures that need to change and then determining priorities for investing in reform and making difficult trade-offs to get there. ”
School Budget Hold ‘em evolved out of ERS’s experience working with large urban districts around the country. The goal was to create an engaging, interactive way for administrators to think differently about how they allocate resources. The budget impacts associated with various “card” choices are estimates based on real districts—specific district circumstances may vary.
ERS has seen firsthand how district and school leaders often deal with the budget process. They make minor adjustments to the previous year’s budget, hoping to preserve existing positions and perhaps purchase some new materials. They often separate budgeting from school planning. These routine efforts are typically made against the backdrop of looming deadlines, with little time spent reflecting on or rethinking current practice to improve outcomes.
“The game shows a way out of feeling like our hands are tied,” says ERS Managing Director Karen Baroody. “Players learn to consider options they might usually overlook or realize the value of choices that typically seem too difficult. Given that cuts are inevitable, districts can take this time to cut deeper in some areas in order to invest in areas that are crucial for significant improvement. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way.”
The game is both online and a physical card game ERS has been using with districts around the country. “I love the game!” reported an early test-user. “I think this site can make a major contribution to K-12 districts as we struggle with decreasing revenue streams and increased expectations for performance.”
To play School Budget Hold’em go to Holdem.ERStools.org.