An Update: Chattanooga and Student-Based Budgeting

Commentary

An Update: Chattanooga and Student-Based Budgeting

A new report reveals that principals in Hamilton County of Chattanooga, Tennessee only control 2 percent of their schools’ budgets. Under this system, they have almost no authority to serve the best interests of the needs of their students.

Metro Ideas is urging local Hamilton County Schools officials to implement a student based budgeting formula to address this issue. Reason’s Tyler Koteskey explained how student based budgeting accounts for more local control of the budget and considers each child’s unique individual needs throughout their education. Since his article appeared in May, Metro’s new report shows the exact dollar amount spent per student in each school. The inequalities are clear, and are anywhere between $5,000 and $9,000 per pupil depending on the school.

Student-based budgeting can fix the inequities and inefficiencies that arise from over-centralized budget formulas that don’t adequately account for student needs. A shift to SBB would be particularly timely for Hamilton County schools because Metro Ideas is proposing to implement student-based budgeting through a pilot program to allow a gradual transition to the new system. Chattanooga already has a variety of schools with special status and extra flexibility known as innovation school zones. Chattanooga could look to Minneapolis, which has already experimented with student-based budgeting pilot programs through a similarly designated public schools known as Community Partnership Schools.

Jonathon Welch, the current chairman of the Chattanooga School District 2, has promised to support student-based budgeting if he is re-elected to his position in the upcoming student board election. Welch based his argument on how well the system worked in Nashville schools where after a year of implementation the net funding increased in 60 percent of schools. Principals also reported to be content with the increased control they were given.

Michelle McVicker, the principal of Buena Vista Enhanced Option public school in Nashville, visited Chattanooga on June 8th to talk about her time with student-based budgeting. McVicker said testing proficiency and academic growth improved during her three years working under the new formula. McVicker also reported that her increased freedom helped her more easily target and act on student needs.

Based on the power of student-based budgeting in nearby cities and the new political momentum to adopt it in Chattanooga, school board members would do well to heed the lessons of Metro Ideas’ latest report and enact fairer and more efficient school funding for their students.