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Shelby County Schools effort to fund schools equitably moving forward

ERS' work with Shelby County Schools mentioned in The Commercial Appeal

Access the story as it orginally appeared in The Commercial Appeal.

An effort to redistribute funding among schools in an equitable way will be up for a vote of the Shelby County Schools board next week.

The board will vote on a resolution committing to implement student-based budgeting, a massive overhaul of finances that would give principals more flexibility in meeting their students' needs.

The board discussed the resolution in a work session Monday, two months after the administration's first presentation on the issue in January. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district has "significant" financial pledges from philanthropic organizations in Memphis to help aid in the transition to student-based budgeting, but their leaders wanted to see a firm commitment from the board before writing a check.

"A healthy budgeting system fosters greater equity, transparency and flexibility around resources," the board's resolution reads. "Student-based budgeting (SBB) is a strategy that strives to create these conditions by ensuring resources follow students based on need."

The board has a $99,000 contract with Education Resource Strategies to study equity in the district, but moving forward requires board approval. The consulting group would help the district form a plan to roll out student-based budgeting over a period of three years.

The implementation could mean moving dollars away from schools that spend more per-student to ones with higher needs or that spend less.

"The goal of this is not to fund all schools equally, but equitably," Chief Financial Officer Lin Johnson said.

The resolution acknowledges, "there will be winners and losers" of the new system.

"SCS is committed to mitigate any adverse impact on schools and classroom learning," the resolution states. "This may include, but not limit to, a hold harmless period, a discretionary pool of funds for identified needs by the Superintendent, and timely and appropriate professional development and support for school leaders and Central Office staff."

The district would phase in the system through a pilot program involving a small number of schools this fall. Principals would have funds to choose whether, for example, an extra behavioral therapist or a reading coach is most needed in their school. Other districts across the country, including Metro Nashville Public Schools, use student-based budgeting systems.

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