Blog Post 2: Going Beyond Finances in Resource Allocation Decisions

This blog is the second in a series on how states and districts can improve resource allocation decision-making. For the first blog post in the series, click here.

The first blog post in this series described four strategies that school districts can use when preparing for the public release of school-level spending reports. This second post explores how to incorporate per-pupil expenditure data into district- and school-level resource allocation decision-making and how to ensure that this decision-making includes all possible resources, not just funding.

So, what are the other types of resources, beyond finances, that support the unique needs and experiences of students? And what are the steps and approaches districts can take to consider resource equity? In this post, Education Resource Strategies (ERS), a State Support Network partner with experience supporting districts as they analyze their own resource equity data and plan for per-pupil expenditure reporting, recommends approaches for analyzing data and connecting with community members.

What Districts Can Do to Support Resource Equity

Once districts know what financial resources are available at each school, what should district leaders do?

  • Ask why expenditures are what they are. We know expenditures will vary across schools in a district, so leaders must understand what factors drive that variation and be prepared to speak to those variations in a way that stakeholders can understand.
  • There are many factors that drive variation. Some of these may be intentional, like greater per-pupil spending in schools with higher proportions of students with disabilities, while others may be unintentional, such as higher per-pupil spending in schools that are under-enrolled. District leaders should know what is likely causing the variation in resource levels to determine whether changes in approach are needed. District leaders should also be able to succinctly communicate what key factors are driving spending in their schools.
  • Higher or lower spending is not inherently a good or bad thing. While how much funding schools have is important, it’s just as important to consider how well those resources are used. District leaders can approach this work from a lens of learning and transparency rather than trying to justify or defend any particular data point.
  • For most districts, late 2019 or early 2020 will mark the first-time school-level spending (including per-pupil expenditures) will be publicly shared, which offers an opportunity to critically examine resource allocation with stakeholders.

How should districts use per-pupil spending information?

Beyond understanding school-level spending (i.e., how much funding schools have) it is important to examine the other types of resource equity (e.g., how well those dollars are used) and how resources align with student needs. The recent What is Resource Equity brief from ERS, outlines 11 dimensions of resource equity, such as access to a high-quality and diverse teacher workforce, rigorous curriculum and instruction, and targeted student supports aligned with need. District leaders can use the dimensions described in this brief to expand their understanding of equity beyond funding to include the full spectrum of resources that inform the student experience. The graphic from ERS below shows all 11 dimensions of resource equity:

The dimensions are, on the rim, school funding, diverse & inclusive schools, school leadership & diversity, learning-ready facilities, and, inside, instructional time & attention, student supports & intervention, high-quality early learning, strong school culture & climate, family academic engagement, teacher quality & diversity, and empowering, rigorous content.

Source: Education Resource Strategies

What should districts do if they don’t have detailed data on each of these types of resource equity?

  • Engage in a conversation with stakeholders about resource equity based on existing data, while making plans to collect any missing or insufficient data.
  • For districts with limited data, it may be useful to begin discussions with a “best guess” data point for each type of resource equity, such as categorizing schools as high, medium, or low resource levels based on perceptions. For example, the district might learn that its novice teachers are concentrated in its highest-need schools. This method can help local leaders identify areas for deeper inquiry and begin critical conversations around resource alignment, equity, and the needs of specific schools across the district.

What key considerations should a district acknowledge before engaging with community members?

Districts should prepare themselves for repeated engagement with community members in discussions about resource equity. It can be helpful for district leaders to approach these conversations with both a clear understanding of resource allocation and use across and within schools, as well as a learning mindset to allow community members’ perspectives to inform the conversation in a meaningful way. To help frame the conversation with community members, districts should anticipate and think through key considerations around resource equity that go beyond how much each school spends. These key considerations include:

  • Are we distributing all resources in a way that aligns with our students’ needs?
  • What drives spending variation across schools in my district?
  • How are other resources (beyond school funding) distributed across schools and students?
  • How do resources available at schools shape the student experience?

Interested in learning more?

For more information, check out the What is Resource Equity brief and the Strategic System resource from ERS, and visit ERS’ and the Education Trust’s new Alliance for Resource Equity website.

Coming Soon…

Over the next few weeks, this blog series will share examples from states and districts currently engaged in this work. Look for the following posts in this blog series:

  • Blog Post 3: Preparing for the Financial Transparency Provision: State Examples The third blog in the series will highlight the initial and ongoing steps that two states have taken to prepare for the financial transparency provision.
  • Blog Post 4: Recap The fourth blog in the series will summarize the key takeaways from the series and highlight the work happening at the district level around school-level spending reporting in Oregon and North Carolina.

Click here for the next post in the series, “Preparing for the Financial Transparency Provision: State Examples.”