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Checklist: Creating a Strategic Budget Process

Strategic Budget Development

The big and small decisions that are made over the course of the budget development process have a tremendous impact on the way schools are funded and how resources are organized across school systems to support students and ensure teachers are setup for success.

How can you make sure that your budget process yields transformational improvements for our students? We see that more often than not it’s the process - tight timelines, siloed decision making, etc., which constrains the ability to make the changes that will have the most impact. There are ways to move beyond this.

At ERS, our vision of the Strategic System is a guide to district transformation so that every school succeeds because of the system – not in spite of it. At the center of this transformation is how resources are allocated and distributed across the district and schools. Also known as: The budgeting process.

The standard annual district budgeting process for many districts begins with reviewing the prior year’s budget and making incremental changes. Yet to achieve transformational change so that every school can succeed for every student, the budget process needs to evolve and be integrated into the district’s strategic development and review.

This checklist helps district leaders and administrators understand what a strategic budget process looks like. You can also download a survey version of the checklist, which allows district or school leaders to assess their current budgeting process against these best practices principles. The survey version was developed by Professor Howard Kuchta of Cameron University in Oklahoma, who used it during his educational leadership course.

A Strategic Funding System

Wide funding differences across schools,
with unplanned and inconsistent school
sizes, program offerings, and locations.      
School funding is equitable, flexible, and
transparent; and the portfolio of schools
reflects student and community need,
equity of access, and cost.

What is the opportunity?

System leaders can redesign strategic funding systems to be equitable, flexible, and transparent. Equitable funding systems differentiate funding according to student need, while also ensuring a base from which students in all schools can thrive. Flexible funding systems ensure that resource use is driven by the unique needs and instructional vision of each school, not rigid funding requirements. Transparent systems allow everyone to understand the choices made, building trust and enabling strategic planning.

At the same time, system leaders can create dynamic school portfolios that adjust the sizes, grade-spans, program offerings, and even governance structures of their schools to reflect student and community need and ensure equitable access across students and geography, all informed by cost considerations.

Equity: Funding is allocated equitably across schools, adjusting for student and school needs.
Transparency: Clear rules guide the "where, how, and why" of the flow of dollars in district and school budgets.
Flexibility: Schools have the flexibility to use resources to support their unique needs and strategies.

Other checklists in the series:

Teaching Checklist: Teacher Leadership and Career Pathways
This checklist defines key steps to successful, sustainable, and scalable career pathways that strengthen school leadership, accelerate teacher and student learning, and enrich the teaching career.

Strategic Scheduling Checklist
A school’s master schedule brings its priorities to life and is critical to shaping how learning takes place. Framed within the goals that effective strategic schedules should accomplish, this checklist is a resource for school leaders and their teams to use when planning, creating, and vetting their master schedules.

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