Financial Innovations During COVID Show Schools Can Be Nimble When They Have To

By Marguerite Roza & Katherine Silberstein, The 74

Roza & Silberstein: When districts break out of deeply ingrained expenditure habits, it’s a big deal. During the pandemic, many of them did just that

When a profound disruption like school closures sweeps the nation, it’s no surprise that education innovations bubble up. We’ve heard about learning pods, on-demand tutoring and redesigned schools. But perhaps more noteworthy is another type of innovation that is easy to overlook: innovations in district financial practices.

For decades, school budgets have been frustratingly static, with each year’s expenditures looking much like a carbon copy of the prior year’s. Even when there are longstanding issues with student outcomes or equity, the budget gets built on preceding year figures, seemingly immune to changing context or achievement successes or failures. Teacher pay, the biggest expenditure item, religiously follows a uniform salary scale altered only by a modest percentage adjustment, regardless of whether the district routinely has trouble filling positions in some subject areas or high-needs schools. When called upon to make spending changes, leaders cite rigidities like labor contracts, budget commitments, regulations and more.

This story was produced by The 74, a non-profit, independent news organization focused on education in America.