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Budget Talk: How are Metro schools funded and how do they spend the money? Here’s how.

Metro Schools is one of the largest and most diverse school districts in America. It takes nearly 11,000 employees and countless community partners to educate 86,000 students in 166 schools. It also takes a large budget: more than $800 million, or 41 percent of the entire city’s operating budget.

We’re in the budgeting process for the 2016-2017 school year and we want you to know how schools and the district use taxpayer funds to give students a great education.

At the core of what we do, we believe instructional and support decisions should be made by the educators who know students best and see them every day. Rather than using a centralized, top-down approach, we give principals the authority to both design their own schools and decide how to use their resources to support them. We do it through a funding model called student-based budgeting.


With student-based budgeting, principals have direct control and authority over more than half of the district’s operating budget.

This means principals and school leadership teams can make their own major decisions like:

  • how many and what kinds of teachers to hire
  • whether to hire academic coaches to improve instruction
  • what extra supports their students need
  • how to offer tutoring
  • what kind of software will help improve literacy or math


“Student-based budgeting allows schools the flexibility to prioritize the needs of the school and community and spend funds accordingly,” said James Urquhart, principal of Norman Binkley Elementary School.  “One size does not fit all.”

The 2015-2016 school year marked the first year of district-wide implementation of student-based budgeting. This new way of funding schools supports the district’s strategic plan, Education 2018, by empowering principals and giving increased flexibility and discretion for personalized learning and student-centered decisions.

Student-based budgeting explained

Student-Based Budgeting (SBB) has two central components:

  1. Principals should have the flexibility to create personalized learning environments to meet their students’ individual needs.
  2. Resources should be provided equitably to schools based on the unique needs of those students.

In the 2015-16 school year, every student comes with a fixed amount of funding for his or her school — $4,250.


On top of that, we have identified student characteristics that are most directly tied to academic achievement and give schools extra money to serve those characteristics.

With that extra money, schools can give more resources to students who need extra support, like English Learners, students with special needs and students with a history of academic struggles. This ensures equitable funding that recognizes not all students are the same.

For example, an  student who is learning English comes with another 10 percent raise in funding. A student with a history of poor academic performance will need extra interventions and individual attention, so we add on another 5 to 10 percent, depending on the student’s grade level.

Taken on an individual basis, it may not seem like that much of an increase. But taken together as a school with hundreds or thousands of students, and suddenly principals could have much bigger budgets to use as they see fit.

In fact, when student-based budgeting went district-wide, 60 percent of schools saw more money per student than the year before. The other 40 percent received the same amount.

How do principals use the money?

Principals decide how many teachers they need based on their budgets, desired classroom ratios and the specializations they need. They can also choose to add more instructional support by hiring academic coaches, interventionists, classroom assistants and more.

“Allowing schools to use their funds for needs within their own school, we can cater the education for all students at a higher level than we have ever been able to do in the past,” said Clint Wilson, principal of Glencliff High School. “It has allowed us to hire additional teachers, thus reducing the teacher to student ratio in some math, English and ELL classes by over 30 percent. It also decreases past barriers of having to go to multiple channels to get what each school needs.”

Instructional materials.
Apart from people, principals have a wide variety of options available, including campus support, books and instructional supplies, software licenses, as well as extra money for teachers who take on leadership roles within the school.

“We are looking at ways to increase our students’ ACT scores. School-based budgeting allows me to allot funds to purchase practice ACT tests to use as pre-tests for the ACT for our juniors,” said Angela McShepard-Ray, principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School. “The funds also allow me to allot funds to pay for an official ACT report for each student that will be used with students to analyze their ACT results and what needs to be the focus of each student to improve his/her ACT score. The post test will be the test district purchases for each junior.”

For more on the Metro Schools budget process, visit this webpage.

Metro Schools principals are taking control of their school budgets

Starting next year, half of the Metro Schools operating budget – more than $400 million – will be directly under the control of school principals. They will decide how that money can best be spent to benefit their students, choosing everything from staffing to instructional strategies and what extra support services to offer.

It’s the completion of a plan that’s been phased over the last two years, and it gives principals the power to design how their schools operate and how they teach children. It’s called student-based budgeting, and it is exactly what it sounds like: schools’ budgets are based on the students they serve and those students’ needs, not district regulations and mandates.

Student-based budgeting is a pretty big change from the way school funding is traditionally done. As the district moves forward with this, these are the six things you need to know about it.

1. It’s all about the students.

Schools will be funded according to a formula that’s based on the students who are in the building. That doesn’t just mean the number of students, but also the characteristics of those students.

The amount of money each school gets is based on individual student needs. Schools will get a base amount of money in their budgets for each student served, and that amount will go up depending on certain factors like exceptional education needs, English Learner status, prior academic performance and more. This brings greater equity to school budgeting because funding is the same for similar students no matter where they go to school.

2. Principals have the power.

Principals need the ability to make decisions based on their professional expertise and knowledge of their own students. With student-based budgeting, principals are empowered to design their schools. They will be encouraged to try innovative practices and make whatever decisions are necessary to build schools that deliver instruction tailored just for their students.

For example, if a principal feels like his or her students need an extra school counselor, he or she can build that into the school budget. The same is true if the school needs and intensive ACT prep program or more English Learner teachers. It’s all up to the school leader.

When school design decisions are made closer to the students and not handed down from central office, instruction can be more personalized to student needs.

Robbin Wall

3. It means more money for English Learners and others.

Metro Schools intends to dramatically increase direct spending on English Learners. EL status is a significant predictor of academic success, and EL students need greater supports in the classroom.

To give schools the flexibility to better serve their EL students, they will get more money for each EL student they serve. The same will happen for students with disabilities and students who have struggled academically.

4. It will give greater support to struggling students – no matter where they go to school.

Prior academic performance is by far the greatest predictor of future academic success, so students who are behind academically will be funded at a higher level. So that schools can get these students back on track early, even more funding will be given to elementary and middle schools for each struggling student they serve.


5. It could mean more money for many schools.

Right now, some Metro schools are funded at much higher levels than others with similar needs. This happens for a lot of reasons, including special status like enhanced option schools. Because student-based budgeting allocates money according to students and not other factors, it will bring equity to school budgets by funding similar schools at similar levels.

This could mean some schools will see greater funding next year, though that would require an increase in the district operating budget. But the results will be worth it: more equitable funding to serve students with similar needs.

6. Intentionally small and other specialty schools will be funded sustainably.

Not every school will be a part of the program. Schools that are intentionally small or operate specialty programs – like the Academy at Old Cockrill, MNPS Virtual School, alternative learning centers and others – will have some flexibility over budgeting, but must be funded in a different way to ensure they are viable and able to operate.

Also, principals will have direct control over a large portion of their school budgets, but not everything. Services like transportation, maintenance, human capital, and others will still be provided centrally.

You may be wondering: where did this idea come from? The district’s strategic plan, Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, sets forth a vision for every Metro school to create personalized learning environments. Meeting individual students’ needs through tailored instruction looks different at every school. The strategic plan specifically states that schools should create personalized learning environments “influenced and determined by their school’s unique identity, context and capacity.”

Creating personalized learning environments requires an equitable distribution of resources to meet individual student needs and meaningful flexibility to allow principals to tailor their learning environment. Student-based budgeting makes this possible.

It is a popular program nationwide. New York City, Denver, Boston, San Francisco and several other major American cities already do it. It’s easy to see why. Student-based budgeting just makes sense. School leaders know their students and what they need better than anyone else. If principals are to be held accountable for the results of their school, they should be the ones making the school design decisions.

Read more about student-based budgeting in this fact sheet.

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