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A regular update from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown’s McCourt School. 
By Chad Aldeman
Look what the ESSER Bunny brought!

Our new ESSER Expenditure Dashboard is now live. It tracks actual federal relief spending by district. We've got data for nearly half the states so far with more on the way. Bookmark it and check back often!
Last year, school districts wrote plans for how they were going to spend their federal ESSER money. Those were important, but they were also just plans that were subject to change as districts moved into implementation.
At the national level, Marguerite Roza and Katherine Silberstein noted in a recent piece for Brookings that districts had tapped less than 5% of their ESSER III funds as of January 31, 2022. Some of the unspent money has been obligated; for example, districts have initiated facilities projects but not yet paid out on them. They also have ambitious hiring plans, and ongoing labor costs will further draw down funds over time. 
But with a use-it-or-lose-it deadline of September 2024 for the biggest pot of federal funds, the math speaks for itself: To spend the remaining funds, most districts need to up the pace at which money goes out the door each month. 
Slower spending now means that districts will need to spend even more going forward to spend it before the deadline. That also means that the new higher monthly spending levels will be followed by an even steeper fiscal cliff when the money runs out. 
How can district leaders build skills to make smart spending decisions? 
School district leaders are the stewards of budgets involving millions or sometimes billions of dollars. To spend that money, they must navigate a complicated landscape of stakeholder interests, advocacy demands, and public reporting. And yet, most leaders haven’t been trained to make these kinds of strategic financial decisions. 
At Edunomics Lab, we’ve been training district leaders on complex education finance decisions to inform their policy and practice amidst a rapidly changing financial landscape. With a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences we created ELab-U, an open-source education finance curriculum. These free, highly adaptable modules—ranging from how to read district budgets to understanding the financial implications of teacher pension plans—are adapted from our certificate program and years of practitioner trainings. Please try them out and let us know what you think! 
Looking for more in-depth training? 
We still have a few openings in our next Certificate in Education Finance cohort taking place May 3-4 in Saratoga Springs, NY. The program offers training in real-time financial decision making, cost-equivalent tradeoffs, communications, and data visualization tools. Learn more and register here
We’re also beginning to recruit for a special training this fall geared exclusively to school board members. We welcome individuals or members who join as a team. After all, school boards are the ones that approve district budgets. If your local school board would benefit from better strategic financial skills, please reach out for more information to
Houston is considering moving away from a weighted-student funding model that helps deliver more resources to low-income students. Such a move will not generate more money, but it will centralize power and shift it away from principals at the school level. As Jessica Swanson and Marguerite Roza caution in The Houston Chronicle, principals–who know their students and the strengths of their unique mix of staff–will lose their flexibility to tailor programming and staffing to meet the needs of their diverse students. A proven track record of equity hangs in the balance.
Enrollment loss across urban districts will likely mean layoffs and closures if districts don’t recover by 2024. As Marguerite Roza told The 74, “Federal money will run out, and enrollment for some of them isn’t isn’t going to come back. These cost factors are going to just slam down on people.”
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with insights or suggestions:
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.
Edunomics Lab website

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Edunomics Lab · 2341 Eastlake Ave E · Seattle, WA 98102-3960 · USA