Our special education students have been hit particularly hard this year as leaders scramble to pivot, turn, and do-si-do in so many directions in response to so many issues. Extended periods of remote learning have made providing the specialized and individualized instruction required by these students challenging. One turn of events for our Special Education Departments, however, has been most welcome – the availability of additional funds to address the changes and challenges to come.
Beyond your wish list
It is not difficult to come up with a wish list of needs & wants to improve learning outcomes. Online supports such as virtual therapy services, specialized online learning programs etc. may well be needed into the future. Many districts, however, are looking to use the additional monies to offer summer and after school programs like New York City’s Summer Rising program, free to any NYC student in grades K–8, including students with disabilities, to help “provide a bridge to next school year and allow students to reconnect with one another and with their schools.”
Getting the best ROI
Funding opportunities also require accountability. How can you best spend the money to get the most “bang for your buck”? How do you plan and prioritize purchases and programs with fidelity? How do you provide and train staffing to implement such programs? How do you plan to sustain your return on investment when funding dwindles?
No matter what direction you go, budget work is challenging because it is often vulnerable to accusations of lack of transparency, favoritism, and/or poor decision making. Budget work is often highly visible and done under pressure. Rationale must be clearly communicated and documented. To achieve that budgeting and planning that addresses both the complexity of implementing new programs and changing staffing you need a clear process like decision analysis that will:
- Provide a framework makes it easy to adapt as changes occur
- Reflect district and stakeholder needs, priorities, and goals
- Provide objective, consistent assessment of budget actions
- Generate greater transparency and support from others
- Engender confidence from others in budget process
- Serve as a basis for effective recommendations, communications and implementation
- Maintain focus and alignment for Federal IDEA and other grant writing processes.
Excellent decision makers define what they want and need in their final choice before they start, expand thinking around their alternatives, consider and plan for risks, and make their thinking visible so conclusions and rationale are clear, explicit and easily explained. Putting the work in upfront in your budget planning can ensure that you are making the most of the opportunities that new funding can provide.