In light of Saturday's state school board elections in Louisiana, The Pelican Institute's Kevin Mooney makes the case that "strong performing charter schools in the Recovery School District (RSD) make a compelling case for even greater decentralization in Louisiana's education system, according to the proponents of student based budgeting." This is especially true now that 80 percent of students in New Orleans are enrolled in charter schools where the "money follows the child" and student outcomes are moving in positive directions on multiple indicators from test scores to graduation rates. The Reason Foundation has been involved in a two year project to help the "money to follow every child" in Louisiana to the school in which they enroll.
As the Pelican Institute reports:
Last November, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) began studying the new budgetary concept at the behest of the state's Streamlining Commission. Under current policy, state money is allocated to each school district and the district officials determine how much money each school receives. But there is a better way to maximize resources and direct money into the classroom, Lisa Snell, the director of Education and Child Welfare at the California-based Reason Foundation, said.
"We've learned from the charter school movement that decentralization has its advantages," Snell explained. "One of the problems we see at the federal, level and district level is that there are a lot of rules about how to spend money and principals are held accountable for student achievement. But the principals have very little input how resources are directed in specific instances. They should have more autonomy over how resources are aligned toward their school's instructional goals."
The idea behind student based budgeting (SBB) is for school dollars to be dispersed on a per-pupil basis and to follow individual students into schools where the principals determine how the money is best spent. Snell made the case for SBB last year before a BESE task force. She was joined by three other presenters from across the country who have successfully implemented the new budgetary method in their districts.
Matt Hill, an administrative officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District, told task force members that assigning financial resources directly to schools had allowed for each school to have greater flexibility to make specific decisions in spending, which in turn improved student performance. Jason Willis, a former budget director with the Oakland Unified School District, said some tasks are better suited to "economies of scale" at the central office, but most duties associated with "enhancements to learning" were better dealt with at the school level.
BESE has authorized a pilot program set to go into full effect next year that includes at least six different parishes: Jefferson, Sabine, Terrebonne, Assumption, Lafourche and Iberville. Officials with St. John the Baptist indicated earlier this year that they may not take part in the pilot after initially signing up, but the parish has not officially withdrawn, Penny Dastugue, the BESE president said. She anticipates the pilot program will yield useful information for school officials over the next several months.
"This is a voluntary way for districts to explore new concepts and new practices," Dastugue said. "The idea here is to empower local school leaders and to shift the decision-making over to the local schools where there is a firm understanding of student needs."
School districts that have embraced SBB throughout the country find that it translates into greater transparency, heightened flexibility and greater equity, Dastugue noted. She also said that the overall success of the charter school program suggests that SBB can be made to work in a larger scale.
"A one size fits all approach does not work," she said. "We need to be student specific and let principals address the individual needs of their schools. In a way, we already have a successful for student based budgeting with our charter schools."
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