Power of the Purse

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School districts in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Pittsburgh, and San Diego, among others, are moving to school-based budgeting.

Here are some examples:

Chicago: A 1988 school reform law created local school councils at every site made up of parents, community members, teachers, and the principal. The councils select principals, approve the annual school improvement plan and the budget, and allocate state anti-poverty funds, which average about $500,000 per elementary school. The city's 557 schools receive such grant funds and discretionary money for instructional materials and supplies. Under a two-year pilot program, begun last year, 43 schools receive additional flexibility, such as the ability to transfer funds on-line and to charge routine purchases against a debit card, instead of filing requests with the central office.

Cincinnati: Under a pilot program, eight of the district's approximately 80 schools will be reorganized into teams of students and teachers starting next school year. These schools will receive part of their budget in a lump sum to spend as they see fit.

Los Angeles: School-based budgeting began in 1994-95, as part of a reform effort known as LEARN. This year, 192 schools, more than one-third of the total, receive more than 80 percent of their general funds in a lump sum based on a per-student formula.

New York: Under a pilot program begun this year, about one-fourth of the city's roughly 1,000 public schools are moving to performance-driven budgeting. The effort is designed to free schools from rules, policies, and procedures that prevent them from aligning their resources with their school improvement plans. State law requires all schools to have school-based budgeting authority by 1999-2000.

Seattle: Beginning next school year, the district's roughly 100 schools will receive their annual allocations in a lump sum, based on a weighted per-student formula, including money for personnel. Each school also will receive a basic allowance for administrative staffing. The principal, teachers, and site council are expected to use the money to design the strongest educational program for their school.

Broward County, Fla.: All 193 schools receive their full share of the general budget, based on a weighted per-student formula, including money for personnel. They can spend it according to their own school improvement plans within limits set by accreditation requirements and district standards. Business analysts and technical-support teams are available to assist schools. A year-old accountability policy bases 60 percent of a school's evaluation on student achievement. Beginning in the fall, schools will be formally rated, with consequences for low ratings.

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