Most school districts begin to plan school-and district-level budgets five to seven months before starting the school year. The dollars that districts allocate to departments and schools from which they plan depend on a multitude of factors—the most consequential of which is projected student enrollment. Indeed, student enrollment is the chief driver of school-district revenue.
Yet, a district's capacity to identify and project school- or district-level enrollment accurately remains a blend of art and science. Changes to school boundaries, new residential housing developments (or the closure/repurposing of existing housing communities), private and charter school enrollment, and a global pandemic all contribute to which students show up to which schools in the fall.
These moving parts make resource allocation math a continually moving target. Districts plan well for multiple scenarios. The challenge for school districts is there are some barriers to running and updating resource allocation models, namely:
- Many districts do not have a consolidated, fully defined set of business rules to which they can quickly and readily apply to updated/evolving projected enrollments
- The manual- and time-intensive-nature of generating FTE and dollar allocations to schools and departments circumscribes the district's capacity to tweak or adjust their funding formula.
Districts must spend more time in spreadsheets than answering the essential questions. How do changes in enrollment and potential changes to the resource allocation formula's rules and logic (e.g., modeling the impact of reducing first-grade class size from 23:1 to 20:1) affect school- and department-level allocations? A district needs the ability to model enrollment and concomitant changes in funding allocations to plan for and subsequently operate schools and the necessary instruction therein. Further, districts are then tasked with providing these funding allocation data to community stakeholders transparently.
Allocate is designed to help districts with this essential work. It does so through key features of the tool:
- Allocate is designed to help districts with this essential work. It does so through key features of the tool.
- Allocate allows districts to articulate their business rules (using either a weighted-student funding model or staffing funding model). For many districts, this is the first time/place consolidating practice into clearly defined rules and logic.
- It allows districts to apply these rules to their projected enrollment to instantly (in less than a second) see the impact of those rules on dollars and FTEs district-wide and for each school. No macros. No formula errors. No waiting.
- Districts can change/edit/delete those rules and instantly see the impact of those modifications district-wide and for each school.
- Allocate enables districts to directly compare scenarios to gauge the overall and school-level impacts of formula rules and enrollment projections on resource allocation.
- Allocate automatically generates school-level PDFs for each school so the district can make the 'why' and 'how' questions around dollars and schools accessible and transparent for community stakeholders. Similarly, the tool generates a district-level summary as well so that districts can load their business rules into their budget books.
Consequently, questions that previously required extensive work are now made simple for school districts. For example, if you were opening a new school next year, how would you decide its staffing and resources? What if you were closing a school next year – how do you re-adjust allocations for schools that are receiving those students? What if a recession takes hold and you need to re-adjust school allocations within a new budgetary 'pot' of money? How do we demonstrate our allocation methodology to comply with supplement not supplant under ESSA?
The intended consequence of using a nimble system like Allocate is creating new bandwidth for district budget staff, which provides them the opportunity to engage in strategic work. District budget officers and CFOs are some of the most robust spreadsheet power users out there, and there remain plenty of places to put those formula skills to use. However, Allocate allows the budget office to leverage its experience and institutional knowledge to truly engage in strategic, fiscal equity-driven workaround contemplating and implementing a powerful and precise funding model that meets a district's needs. It automates tedious modeling work and is a powerful staff and resource allocation modeling tool for K-12 school districts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Dayhoff, Senior Account Advisor, has more than a decade of experience working directly in and with public schools. His focus is school finance, with particular emphasis on school, district and state school funding models that attend to advancing vertical fiscal equity for students.