Breaking Down School Budgets: Following the Dollars Into the Classroom

June 2009

Education Next, Vol. 9, No. 3, Summer 2009

How much does it cost to provide a high school math course? What about remedial English? An Advanced Placement (AP) course in history? As the economic outlook continues to darken, school districts will be looking for ways to cut costs, and they will no doubt wrestle with some difficult issues. When does it make sense to keep classes small? When does it make sense to increase class sizes to cut costs? Such debates are often carried out in the absence of information about what actually happens in schools or what the options might be for reallocating scarce resources.

The findings presented in this article demonstrate how isolating spending on discrete services can 1) identify the relationships between priorities, current spending, and outcomes; 2) clarify both relative spending on discrete services and the organizational practices that influence how resources are deployed; and 3) establish the current cost of providing high school services as a necessary precursor to identifying whether there are better ways to provide some services.

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