Your New Budget Workout—Don’t Forget to Stretch!

Guest post by Justin Barbeau, Director of Technical Assistance, Building Assets, Reducing Risks i3 Project; former Minnesota high school teacher

As next year’s school budgets turn over, administrators start the annual “new budget workout”: the challenge to maintain current programming and support services for students and their families. In order to balance the new budget, district and building leaders must do some heavy lifting, often making difficult curriculum, staffing and student support service decisions.

These decisions are based on: 1) reallocating existing funds or 2) tapping new “outside” funds. With diminishing opportunities for the latter, a school’s ability to stretch existing funds takes on ever increasing significance and scrutiny.

Administrators now need to leverage student performance data to calculate ROI, identify specific areas of inefficiency, and immediately act to make effective structural and procedural improvements.

With the administrators I work with, I specifically talk about the cost of student failures. In college, when a student fails a course, they have to pay to retake it, but in high schools, when a student fails a course, the district pays. If the average course costs a school $233 per credit to offer, and 35 percent of ninth-grade students are failing at least one course, with a class size of 400 students, that’s a loss of more than $65,000 per year. That’s not including the cost incurred to re-offer sections for students to make up the following semester. The ratio of credits received/credits offered used in conjunction with a school’s costs leads to a measure of Return on Investment (ROI), which can inform critical funding decisions.

This is where the Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR) model comes in. BARR dramatically reduces student failures while increasing achievement scores in math and reading. What’s the key to its success? Its comprehensive system for providing and reviewing real-time student data so teacher, student, and parent interventions can be made before failure takes hold.

We know approximately 20–40 percent of ninth-grade students fail one or more classes needed for graduation. In order to reduce this failure rate, it is essential to know the numbers. The BARR model’s systematic approach ensures real-time data on failure rates—disaggregated by subject, team, and student demographics—and additional data trends are monitored and shared. This is data that without BARR, is often not easy to collect and disseminate regularly.

With data coming in weekly, it is easier to identify specific areas with high student failures and provide targeted BARR supports to increase teacher and team effectiveness, which leads to a dramatic reduction in student failures, and the costs associated with them. I’ve watched schools that implement BARR cut the number of ninth-grade failures in half, increase academic achievement and, in turn, create significant cost savings to the district.

The BARR framework allows schools to proactively capture and reallocate funds, stretching existing budgets to bring in new programming which gain a higher return on investment and enhance students’ learning experience.

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