Boston Public Schools, like most large urban districts, faces significant budget challenges that too often result in short-term, sometimes drastic “fixes” that profoundly impact the system’s ability to provide a quality education. That problem stems in large part from the uncertainty of funding allocations from year to year.
While struggling to balance budgets with uncertain revenues and unforeseen expenses, it is the rare school system that prioritizes looking ahead to where resources might be redirected to get the most value for students from investments in public education. We congratulate the Boston Public Schools for being that rare district.
A report issued by BPS this week reflects a serious effort to be more deliberate and strategic in allocating resources by moving toward long-term financial planning. In his introduction to the report, Superintendent Tommy Chang writes, “Our students, families, and staff deserve a long term plan that sets forth a strategic approach on how to effectively allocate resources throughout BPS to ensure that student success remains the highest priority.”
The report, Investing in Student Success, presents “a set of ideas” for public consideration as a starting point for a discussion with students, teachers, families and community stakeholders. MBAE welcomes this effort, which is closely aligned with the vision and recommendations in our New Opportunity to Lead blueprint for modernizing our education system. The principles put forth in that report for effective school funding are all reflected in the thinking shared at a BPS event this week:
- The money is for the students
- Funding needs to be both adequate for all students and targeted for those with extra needs
- Fund outcomes (or impact in BPS terms), not programs
- Transparency matters
- Think long-term as well as short-term
- Provide demonstrable value for every tax dollar
These principles are not what guides most school systems in Massachusetts today. Embracing the opportunity to do things differently when the current system isn’t working for too many students is the type of innovation mindset that sets Boston apart. As Harvard Professor Andres Alonso commented, he wishes “every system had this type of clarity regarding system challenges”.
At the meeting on the BPS initiative, speakers emphasized that input from the public will be a central part of this process, and repeatedly referenced the focus on serving children’s needs as the purpose of the “10 Big Ideas to Unlock Resources in the Boston Public Schools” featured in the report. EdVestors President & CEO Laura Perille said “Transparent data focused on impact on all children can begin the conversation”. A schedule of events and the opportunity for online feedback is available on the BPS website.
BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang is under no illusion this will be fast or easy, but is committed to maximizing the effectiveness of district funds. He said at the event, “change may not be comfortable but will be purposeful and focused on the best impact for kids”.