How school leaders can save some funding for the fall
A new report offers superintendents and other school leaders some strategies for saving funds from this school year to prepare for the cutbacks expected in the fall.
Spending at four urban, K-12 districts showed a range of savings from 1% to 3% from the 2019-2020 budget, according to the report, Implications of COVID-19: Capturing FY20 Savings (or Not) in School Districts”, by nonprofit consulting firm Education Resource Strategies.
“Given the magnitude of revenue losses forecasted for FY21 and FY22, every dollar that school systems can save now is a dollar less that will need to be cut later,” the report says.
“School systems must prepare for the 2020-21 school year with an integrated decision-making process that responds to budget reductions, physical distancing implementation and meeting greater student needs in an aligned way,” the report says.
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The high-needs districts, where budgets range from $600 million to over $2 billion, saved the most money on reduced hiring of substitute teachers and transportation but spent more on technology, food service and sanitization.
“We’re feeding our city. We don’t check names; we don’t check for school-aged kids,” one district leader says in the report. “We’re getting reimbursed for half and going over budget by about $5 million.”
One of the districts analyzed spent $11M to purchase devices for a quarter of its students who would not have had access to online learning.
Another of the districts used funds budgeted for overtime to fund hazard pay for frontline workers and bought PPE with money that had been allocated for other supplies.
Still time to find savings
Even though the school year is coming to an end, districts still have a few opportunities to recapture unspent funds.
Three of the districts studied in the report plan to “sweep back” unspent dollars from school and central budgets. The fourth district is allowing schools to increase their carryover and apply their savings toward site budgets for FY21.
Districts can also consider furloughing staff this year and using the savings to pay those staff members to work extended school days in the fall.
“We believe that a day of in-person, on-campus instruction next year is more valuable—and of the most value to our most underserved students through a racial equity social justice lens—than a day of distance learning in this school year,” an administrator in an Oregon district, where staff members have been furloughed, says in the report.
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Administrators will also have time over the summer to use these savings to design more equitable models of instruction.
The report also urges states to plan for fiscal year 2021 knowing that districts will not have significant savings to carry over and that many systems will need more funding to help students recover from academic setbacks caused by school closures.
“While federal funding from the CARES stimulus program may help offset short-term costs, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated student need in these systems in ways that will require longer-term intervention and investment,” the report concludes.
DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.