A new college program with an unorthodox curriculum and mission encourages K-12 administrators and others to re-examine common assumptions about school spending and how to improve student outcomes.
The certificate in education finance, offered by Georgetown University, is not meant to offer enrollees lessons on the nitty-gritty of budget keeping.
Instead, it is supposed to give working school administrators and others immersed in school policy a broader understanding of how money is spent in public education, and the connection between finance and decisionmaking.
Students who complete the interdisciplinary program get a certificate from Georgetown, which can go toward requirements that they obtain continuing education credits or other professional objectives.
Marguerite Roza, the director of the Edunomics Lab and a research professor at Georgetown, believes that the program’s distinct, multi-faceted focus makes it the first of its kind.
The program is “not strictly finance,” Roza said in an interview. “The goal is to give people skills to be better leaders,” and “proceed more purposefully in the decisions they make.”
Located within the university’s McCourt School of Public Policy, the program enrolled its first class of about 40 students earlier this year. Students begin with a two-day residency program at Georgetown, followed by virtual lessons delivered in eight modules for a few months after that. Most enrollees are likely to be taking classes as they work full-time jobs in K-12 systems or other capacities.
A ‘Tool for Reform’
Roza has spent much of her career researching K-12 finance and how schools make decisions about spending. She says she expects students in the program to probe long-held assumptions about how schools should allocate money—toward salaries, academic programs, and other needs—and the “tradeoffs” that come in decisionmaking.
The program is meant to serve school district administrators, such as chief academic officers and finance officials, as well as school principals, state agency employees, representatives from advocacy groups and associations, and others. Many of those groups made up the first class of students, Roza said.
The curriculum combines finance, economics, and leadership with public policy and administration., according to the program’s website. Class material was drawn from a variety of sources, including the University of Washington, and from an education entrepreneurship program at Rice University. The former director of the Rice program, Andrea Hodge, says she’s consulting on the Georgetown certificate effort.
Georgetown wants to draw students from different backgrounds—within and outside of K-12 districts—so they can learn from each other and challenge each other’s thinking, said Hodge. She spoke about the program’s goals this week from the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas, a big gathering of educators and entrepreneurs, where she sought to spread the word about the Georgetown certificate.
The new program isn’t pushing one notion about a “best model” for how spending should occur in K-12, Hodge said, though the idea is that a budget can act as a “tool for reform.”
“The goal is to increase transparency about how dollars are used in education,” she said. “If teachers, and principals, and state and federal decisionmakers can all understand how decisions are being made around allocation of resources…they’re going to be invested more in those budget decisions, and in the conversation about how we’re using resources, and to what effect.”
Roughly 80 percent of K-12 budgets today are consumed by employee salaries. As part of their studies, enrollees in the Georgetown program might, for example, look at the feasibility of paying teachers according to workload, among other options meant to allow districts to get the most for their dollars, Roza said.
The nation’s primary federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires much more tracking of spending at the school level than has been mandated in the past, notes Roza. The type of analysis being undertaken in Georgetown’s program is likely to become more commonplace—and more necessary, Roza predicted.
“There will be a lot more questions and dialogue about the money in education and how it’s spent,” she said.