Special Report
Budget & Finance

Taking More Control of the School Coffers

September 24, 2019 1 min read

Money fuels the daily operations of every public school and district—more than $700 billion in taxpayer dollars each year, undergirding the education of some 51 million public school students nationally.

But the public discussion about that funding can play out at a level far removed from the classroom. It often centers on whether too much or too little is being spent on K-12 overall; big-picture debates about whether money actually moves the needle on achievement; and the policy squabbles behind the latest budget proposals.

This Education Week special report puts a different lens on the spending picture. It focuses not on how much ends up in district coffers, but on what superintendents, principals, and others actually do with the money—and what stands in the way of their making better use of it.

To get a first-hand sense of that, the Education Week Research Center fielded a national survey that queried district- and school-level leaders about their preferences and pain points in managing the funds that keep their schools running. In their survey responses and follow-up interviews, these busy educators offer candid perspectives about the roadblocks they face, how much—or how little—the public knows about the funding puzzle, and what would give the best bang for the buck when it comes to school spending.

Offering important context, a series of information graphics highlights factors that are driving the cost of public education—including fixed expenses and changes in enrollment patterns and demographics—as well as policy landmarks over the last half century that play into the picture.

And in rounding out the report, Education Week reporters dig into the challenges local leaders face in managing and accounting for their funding. Among them: the looming federal requirement for districts to review how they spend their money and the connection to results; how much autonomy principals have over the funding they get and why that matters; and how ground-level choices about spending get tangled up in politics and red tape.

The aim is to show how those on the hot seat go about spending the taxpayer’s money in a way that advances learning and the forces that make that task so difficult.

—Mark W. Bomster,
Executive Project Editor

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A version of this article appeared in the September 25, 2019 edition of Education Week as Taking More Control of School Coffers

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