Last week, Harvard Education Press released Stretching the School Dollar: How Schools and Districts Can Save Money While Serving Students Best. The book is the culmination of a joint Fordham-AEI project, a volume co-edited by Rick Hess and Eric Osberg. Its main attractions are the ten chapters penned by a varied set of authors, each of whom brings a unique perspective to the question of how schools can be successful in tough economic times.

James Guthrie and Arthur Peng set the stage, arguing quite simply that “A 100-year era of perpetual per-pupil fiscal growth will soon slow or stop. The causes of this situation are far more fundamental than the current recession. Schools should start buckling their seat belts now.” Rick has made a similar argument, that over the coming years schools will face increasing fiscal pressures—pressures that are unlikely to diminish the expectations the public, parents, and politicians have for academic results.

So what can be done? Several authors focus on the ways schools and districts can operate more efficiently today. Michael Casserly of the Great City Schools shows how large school districts have shared information to fine tune their operations and save millions, and Marguerite Roza explains how careful analysis can uncover enormous waste. Stacey Childress highlights three districts that have taken a strategic approach to their budgets, aligning spending with their core priorities, and a team from the Boston Consulting Group reveals lessons learned in helping districts streamline. Lastly in this section, Nate Levenson provides a former superintendent’s perspectives on which reforms are possible—and perhaps which are not—when a leader is financially savvy.

A second set of authors focuses on what to do tomorrow. John Chubb shows the cost-saving potential of technology—as both a complement and, at times, a substitute for traditional models of schooling. Steven Wilson shows that rethinking the teaching profession offers perhaps the greatest potential to conserve resources while improving schools—in part through the smart use of technology, but also by tackling salary scales, teacher benefits, merit pay, and more. He goes so far as to argue that many teachers could be paid more—and better supported through professional development—in ways that would save money overall and improve the quality of schools.

Hess and Osberg provide some context and try to tie it all together. It’s a provocative book—whether you’re a policy wonk, school leader, or simply a taxpayer, and well worth checking out.

You can learn more about the book and how Ohio might smartly rethink school spending at our September 27 event in Columbus, “Stretching the School Dollar: Insights for the Buckeye State.”  Marguerite Roza, Steven Wilson, and Eric Osberg will serve as panelists.  The event is free but space is limited.  Register by Friday at [email protected] or 614-223-1580.

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