Spending Choices and School Autonomy: Lessons From Ohio Elementary Schools

July 2007

Education policy is experiencing a revival of interest in school-based decision-making. Giving schools more autonomy reflects the notion that school personnel are better equipped than district administrators to make efficient and effective use of their resources to meet student needs. But for policymakers, several questions remain: If school leaders had more autonomy over resource decisions, would that result in any real difference in how schools use resources? When provided with greater spending autonomy, what kinds of choices do school leaders make? Are those choices meaningfully different from current practice? What kinds of constraints continue to serve as barriers to change? Answers to such questions could help policymakers design more effective school autonomy policies.

This study examines resource allocation patterns across elementary schools and how these patterns differ depending, in part, on various levels of autonomy over resources at the school level. It provides insight into how schools spend their funds, make trade-offs among competing demands for resources, and decide what proportion of their resources should be devoted to staffing.

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