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Introduction: Power of the Purse

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In the push to let teachers and principals make the important decisions about how to run their schools, the simple maxim is true: Money talks.

Without the budget control to back them up, school improvement plans can become little more than exercises in futility.

"You wouldn't try to run a household without having control over your budget," says Diana G. Lauber, a senior program officer with the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, a national network. Yet in many districts that have begun giving schools control over how much they spend and what they spend it on, the process has proved difficult.

Principals, teachers, parents, and central-office administrators have struggled to redefine their roles. Political squabbles, budget cuts, cumbersome accounting practices, and state and federal regulations have further complicated the situation.

At the same time, many educators have realized that if teachers and principals are to make sound decisions, they require access to a lot more information. In Broward County, Fla., and elsewhere, districts are installing computer systems and software that open the information spigots in their schools.

In a special On Assignment section this week, Education Week examines the problems and successes in the move toward giving educators the authority--and the information--they need to manage their schools. See Stories, Pages 23 and 24.

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