Budging the School Budget

Nick Geisinger
September 6, 1999

At first glance, the world of school budgets and school boards might seem inaccessible, packed with financial jargon and complicated issues. But nearly everyone starts with the same questions: How can we best use what we have to help kids? How can we get more resources?

Fortunately for frustrated individuals, there are local citizens and organizations dedicated to making schools work for kids, and they want to hear from you!

Understanding the Issues
Joining a parent-teacher association is an excellent way to get involved. The National PTA can link you to local PTAs, where you can learn about key issues facing schools in your community. Concerned about lowering class sizes? Getting new school buildings? Funding arts or sports programs? With your input, your local PTA can help set community priorities for schools.

Understanding the Leaders
School boards take the lead in identifying a community's education needs and meeting them through local school policy. They are an elected body responsible, among other things, for setting school budgets. Perhaps you know someone who would make a great board member. Maybe it's you! Although everyone can't sit on the board, keeping up on the issues affecting the schools and asking candidates where they stand is a good way to make sure your voice is heard.

The National PTA suggests the following questions as a way to begin to learn more about your school board. Remember, knowledge is power!

  • How many members does your school board have? What are their names and how may they be contacted?
  • What are the legal responsibilities of school board members?
  • How long is their term of office?
  • How often and where do they meet?
  • Are school board meetings open to the public? Are they aired on a cable station?
  • Does the board have the authority to levy school taxes?
  • Does it reserve time on its agenda for public hearings?
  • Does it have written policies on such matters as involvement of the PTA and use of volunteers?
  • Does the school board policy agree with PTA policy on parent involvement?
  • What is the relationship of school-based management council(s) or other school and parent committees to the school board?

For more read "Partners in Education: The School Board and the PTA" which outlines the school board's role and structure. Also visit the National School Boards Association and see what issues are currently facing school boards nationwide.

Once You're Involved
The Public Education Network (PEN) provides support to community-based Local Education Funds to work with teachers, school boards and administrators on school reform initiatives. Contact your nearest local education fund to learn more about their programs or become an active volunteer. Also, check out PEN's new "School Finance Toolkit". It's designed for any organization interested in informing its local community about school finance.

Other Resources:

The school budget is one of the most important ways we set priorities for public education. Responsibility for setting these priorities doesn't belong only to the school district, or to the school board, or to parents, or to teachers. It belongs to everyone who realizes that schools are a focal point for kids' academic, social, and emotional growth. So join the conversation on public education in your community—you are the public; the schools belong to you.