School funding: today’s issues and tomorrow’s solutions
Schools across the country and across the globe are facing budget cuts.
In one survey, 81% of teachers said their school had been hit by cuts.
At the same time, the costs of running a school that helps its students become successful adults are increasing.
The financial burden on many schools has resulted in teachers with unmanageable workloads, overcrowded classrooms, and cutbacks in spending for after-school programs and students with special needs.
If you’re struggling to keep your school’s head above water, you are not alone.
So, what are today’s biggest issues with school funding? Is a lack of funds the only problem?
And how can your school use the funds you have more efficiently?
This article will look at current problems with school funding and examine whether or not school funding is the only problem. We’ll also provide 6 ways school leaders can use school funding more efficiently, including a condensed and printable list of these strategies for your desk!
Current problems with school funding
School funding is a hot topic right now, but it’s not new.
In fact, school funding has been the topic of dozens of lawsuits dating back to the ’70s. The results of these lawsuits have helped make progress in school funding, but underlying issues still remain.
Why are these issues so important?
Because increased funding has been directly linked with student achievement.
In the US, for example, states that implemented finance reforms helped to narrow the achievement gap between students in high-income districts and low-income districts.
Unfortunately, many low-income school districts still spend significantly less on their students: in some cases, as much as $5,000 less per-pupil.
As state programs continue to cut school funding, schools are left with weak budgets and growing issues in providing basic education to their students.
What happens when schools lack funding
According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in the US, a whopping 92% of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies.
On average, each teacher is spending $450 per year without the hope of ever seeing reimbursement.
At the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in Queens, budget cuts have resulted in growing class sizes and reductions in after-school programs.
In fact, when the school appealed last year’s budget cuts, they were told by the city that they had 12 more teachers than necessary. This response shocked the school, since their teachers were already in charge of over 100 students each.
Lack of funds meant after-school programs could no longer be provided for free, which led to the disappearance of the Photography Club, the Outdoor Club, the Live Poets Society, and over 15 others.
Meanwhile, teachers and parents at this school are volunteering their own time to support school activities. Two coaches spend 15 hours per week on coaching the Speech and Debate team without pay.
This paints a dreary picture of what real schools look like without the needed funding.
But, is a lack of funding the only problem?
Is school funding the only problem?
According to former secretary of education John King, no: a lack of school funding is not the only problem.
While he agrees that there’s a large gap in resources coming in, he argued that the problem isn’t just about money: it’s about how that money is being used.
“We’ve got to make sure they have more resources for the highest-needs kids,” he said, “but we’ve also got to make sure that the resources are well-used.”
Each school is responsible for the funds that are coming in. It’s true that these funds may be less than they were in years past, and they may not seem like enough to cover necessary expenses.
But, are there ways your school can use their allotted funds more efficiently?
How school funding is typically used
All schools have similar needs. Typically, funding is spread across these 7 areas:
- Instruction — Includes teachers’ salaries and benefits.
- Maintenance — The physical building must be maintained in order to function properly.
- Services — This pays for support staff, such as school nurses or librarians.
- Food — Lunches and breakfasts are often provided at a reduced price (or free) for low-income students.
- Administration — The salaries of principles, secretaries, and other necessary professionals.
- Transportation — These funds get students to and from school.
- Equipment and Supplies — Whiteboards, markers, erasers, computers, and other necessary supplies fall into this category.
So, knowing these are all necessary parts of a school budget, how can your school reduce costs and spend cash more efficiently?
6 Ways school leaders can use school funding more efficiently
1. Make your school more sustainable
When school leaders work to create a more sustainable environment, this can help reduce necessary expenses.
For example, many schools still stick to old paper systems for billing, payroll, and registration. When schools switch to online alternatives, they can reduce the costs of printing and use of paper. This helps the environment while saving cash.
Schools can also implement frameworks to reduce spending on electricity, water, and heating. Schools in the US spend more than $6 billion per year on energy, but studies show that costs could be reduced by 25% if schools were smarter about energy usage.
Simple changes can go a long way: the Seattle School District saved $20,000 per year by turning off the lights in its vending machines. And the Green Schools Program has helped schools save $7,700 per year by reducing their energy bills.
Here are some ways your school can reduce energy costs:
- Use daylighting to reduce lighting costs
- Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms
- Use motion-activated lights
- Turn off computers and printers at night and on the weekends
- Ensure heating systems run efficiently by scheduling regular maintenance
2. Search for cost-effective (or no-cost) options
Turns out, some of those ‘necessary’ bills aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. With a bit of effort, you can help reduce costs for your school by finding options that give you more bang for your buck.
Take communication systems as an example. Instead of using the traditional phone-on-every-desk method, why not use a voice over internet protocol (VOIP) or Skype?
Another place you can reduce costs is when purchasing equipment and technology for your school. For example, McNairy County Schools in Tennessee bought used and refurbished computers, allowing them to halve the costs of new equipment while still providing working tech to their students.
But it gets even better: some school tech can be acquired without cost!
For example, Prodigy is an engaging math game platform that helps students learn essential math skills while providing teachers with detailed, real-time reporting. This program is zero-cost, meaning schools will never pay and students can continue to learn.
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3. Stay on top of contract renewals
To reduce costs, school leaders need to be aware of where their funds are going. When contract renewals come up for services such as cleaning, insurance, or electricity, make sure to review them before automatically renewing for another year.
While it may take a bit of extra time, shopping around to make sure you’re getting the best deal can save your school hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars.
4. Use your school site to raise funds
Did you know your school has the potential to generate its own income?
Local organizations and businesses might need the space for events such as classes, business meetings, or training sessions.
Or, maybe your sports facilities or hall spaces could be rented out for parties and events.
Even your parking lot could be used to earn some money: if it’s in a strategic area, you could rent it out as paid parking for local events.
Each school can get creative about ways to raise funds. Start by analyzing the spaces your school has and the times those spaces aren’t being used. Then, get in contact with local organizations to see who might need the space, or spread the word among the community that the spaces are available for rent.
5. Automate business processes
Repetitive processes such as payroll, billing, or maintenance requests can all be automated.
There are plenty of tools that automate business processes, and many of them are relatively cost-effective.
The money you spend on automating these business processes will be returned to you by improving productivity. That means you get to save valuable time that can be put to use in other ways, which ultimately saves you money on labor.
6. Invest in teachers
No matter how bad your budget gets, never give up on investing in your teachers. They are the backbone of your school, and without their continued help and hard work, your students will never succeed.
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A paper by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute recommends that schools aim for a leaner, more productive workforce that is rewarded for taking on greater responsibility through better pay.
They suggest that when schools pay more for better results and prioritize teacher salary over benefits, this can result in a compensation system that puts the budget to better use and increases the satisfaction of school staff.
Downloadable list of ways to use school funding more efficiently
Fill out the form below to download and print a simplified list of school funding strategies to keep at your desk!
Use your school funding budget wisely, and help students succeed
The goal of any school leader is to see students succeed and grow into capable, intelligent adults.
While school funding is an issue that isn’t likely to go away soon, that doesn’t mean school leaders are completely helpless.
Yes, budgets for many schools are tight in today’s world. However, you as a school leader can work to put that budget to better use.
By streamlining processes, finding more cost-efficient options, and reducing the costs of running your school, you can allocate more funds to teachers.
Developing your own strategies to cut costs may take some time, but the result will be a more cost-efficient school that can do more for its students while staying within its budget.
Want to use your school funding more efficiently?
Looking for a no-cost learning program at your school?
Try Prodigy — the zero-cost, curriculum-aligned math platform used by more than 1.5 million teachers and school leaders.
School leaders can use Prodigy to:
- Gauge student preparation for standardized testing
- Inform teacher instruction to drive student achievement
- Pinpoint students’ working grade levels and their levels on key strands
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