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A regular update from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown’s McCourt School. 
By Chad Aldeman
It’s that time of year, the last step in what we call “The Budget Dance,” where school boards vote on a spreadsheet that officially becomes next year’s spending plan. Mostly, these budgets look a lot like the previous year’s, even when districts face long-standing challenges, including chronic low performance or frustrating spending inequities. 
 
The Budget Dance is a great reminder of how we got here. It starts in the fall with projected revenues and proposed expenses based on prior year spending, all organized into a set of numbers sorted by “objects” and “functions.” The next few months involve some back and forth, usually to trim here or there to balance the budget. 
 
Timing is everything. When the budget gets to the Board for approval it’s often considered fully baked, with no time to consider alternatives.
Notice any steps missing from The Budget Dance? Perhaps a step to direct funds to address how previous investments are (or are not) paying off in terms of student outcomes? (See our scatterplots that compare spending and outcomes across schools in every district.) Rarely is the public offered any meaningful tradeoffs or choices about the path ahead.
 
And where do we take stock of the financial implications of the inflation-era teacher contract? Also missing in the process is an opportunity to help the board understand what today’s choices mean for the financial road ahead. With student enrollments projected to decline in the coming years, will the district have the right mix of buildings and staff? 
 
For those who want to see a different process, doing so will require building in steps well before the budget vote rolls around. While it may be too late for this budget, now is a great time to call on leaders to include equity and performance data in every step of next year’s budget dance. 
Does your district need new budget moves? Join us for Finance Fridays: School Board Member Edition.

Starting in September, we’ll be hosting a new training program specifically designed to help school board members build and hone the fiscal skills to make strategic spending decisions on behalf of students. Rather than letting inertia drive the process, board members can proactively ensure financial investments are creating positive outcomes for kids while engaging community members and ensuring long-term financial sustainability. Learn more and register here
 
We’re also planning two fall cohorts of our Certificate in Ed Finance, October 12-13 in DC and October 26-27 in Cleveland. Learn about the program and stay tuned for more details.
TRENDING FROM EDUNOMICS LAB
A seismic hit: In the New York Times, Marguerite summed up the state of public education saying, “Student outcomes are low. Habits have been broken. School finances are really shaken. We shouldn’t think that this is going to be like a rubber band that bounces back to where it was before.” 
Real-time ESSER spending data: Check out our ESSER Expenditure Dashboard, where we are tracking federal relief spending by school district. We now have data for 42 states with the last remaining holdouts on the way (we hope)!
Washington influencer: Marguerite was recently named one of Washingtonian's 500 most influential people as an expert sought out by influencers and policymakers and for leading Edunomics Lab's work modeling ed finance policy and practice.

Promising responses to a tight labor market: Katherine Silberstein and I recently analyzed innovative compensation strategies that some districts are using to attract and retain talent
 
Has there been an exodus of school leaders? I shared data with EdWeek on principal turnover rates in CO and MA. Like with teachers, survey data suggests principal dissatisfaction is running high, but the latest data we have (through the fall of 2021) suggests that principal turnover rates are still well within historical norms
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with insights or suggestions: Chad.Aldeman@georgetown.edu
Connect with us on Twitter:
@ChadAldeman, @MargueriteRoza, @EdunomicsLab
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Edunomics Lab is a Georgetown University research center exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions to inform education policy and practice.
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