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Optimizing Education: The Crucial Role of Effective Resource Allocation Systems in K-12 Education

By Kevin N. Junk and Drew Atchison, January 29, 2024

Properties of Effective Resource Allocation Systems:

  1. Equity
  2. Transparency
  3. Stakeholder Engagement
  4. Alignment with district goals

As a district leader, you know that the allocation of resources is critical for improving student outcomes and the equity of educational outcomes. The Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) has been working with the Illinois State Board of Education to develop the state’s process for conducting “resource allocation reviews,” a requirement under ESSA whereby states facilitate reviews with districts that have substantial numbers of schools identified as needing supports and improvement (i.e. comprehensive support and improvement or targeted support and improvement schools). During this work, a key question that came up was “What does good resource allocation within districts look like?” To address this question, and to serve as a guidepost for the resource allocation reviews, we developed a brief guide to the Properties of Effective Resource Allocation Systems. By paying attention to these four priority areas, you as a school/district will be able to use resources more intentionally, effectively, and equitably.

1. Equitable Resource Allocation

Equity must be front and center for a resource allocation system to be effective. The understanding is clear – certain students have additional educational needs and require additional resources. Schools serving higher percentages of students with additional needs, including students with disabilities, English learners, and economically disadvantaged students, require additional resources to meet the needs of those students and address gaps in educational outcomes. However, despite widespread recognition of this need, districts often encounter challenges in implementing equitable resource allocation. As you are trying to overcome these challenges, consider effective resource allocation formulas that include explicit adjustments of sufficient strength that prioritize all student’s needs.

One barrier to improved equity is the allocation of funding for pet projects (or perhaps to mollify an influential stakeholder) potentially leading to an inequitable distribution of resources. For example, a school with relatively lower needs might be provided additional resources for a robotics or engineering program that is not provided in higher needs schools, inadvertently creating disparities. Instead of allocating funding on an ad hoc basis or in a reactionary manner, funding should be allocated using an intentional formula or process that prioritizes the needs of students.

Another common way our usual allocation process can cause inequities is when we sort staff based on experience and credentials, rather than based on school needs. Although this may not happen intentionally – schools with more difficult teaching conditions often have higher turnover rates leading to less experience – the result is that the schools with the most need for experienced high-quality teachers are the least likely to have them. In addition, teacher pay is tied to experience meaning that schools with higher need and less experienced staff are effectively getting less funding. When considering how resources can be adjusted to prioritize student needs, recognize that the highest-need schools may face additional inequities that are not apparent by simply looking at staff counts or budgets.

2. Transparent Resource Allocation

Transparency of resource allocation is another key component for building trust among stakeholders and facilitating their participation in the budgeting and planning processes. An unclear allocation process can lead to an erosion of trust between parents, community members, schools, and the district. An unclear method for allocating resources can also lead to perceived inconsistency, causing frustration among school leaders and stakeholders.

A transparent allocation system is characterized by a simple and well-defined process for distributing resources to schools. Such systems empower stakeholders to advocate effectively for better resource allocation, ensuring that resources are allocated based on actual needs. If you are looking for a tool to help with transparency, ISBE and R9CC have collaborated and created the Community Financial Meeting Toolkit.

3. Engaging Stakeholders in the Process

Stakeholder engagement is another fundamental key to understanding students’ needs and using resources efficiently. The individuals closest to the students – school-level staff, community members, and families – possess invaluable insights into the specific resources required for student success. Make sure that you are involving these stakeholders in the planning and budgeting processes and that your district can tap into a wealth of knowledge that contributes to effective resource utilization.

Transparent resource allocation processes help facilitate stakeholder engagement by providing the necessary information for informed advocacy. You should establish deliberate mechanisms, such as school site committees or advisory committees, to include diverse perspectives in the decision-making process. This not only ensures a more thorough understanding of resource needs but also builds broader support for implementing policies and programs. This committee should meet on a regular basis to ensure that a diverse voice is heard and to create a deeper sense of commitment felt by the council or committee. Things you should think about when you are creating this committee are:

  1. Does our committee represent our student body?
  2. Does our committee have different representations of backgrounds?
  3. Does our committee represent parents, business people, special community groups people, and others who might be important to your community?

4. Alignment with District Priorities and Goals

As you think about the integration and alignment of budgeting, planning processes, and district goals, remember how crucial it is to maximize the efficiency of resource usage. Also, the misalignment between budgeting and planning often results in budgets that do not address school priorities.  Make sure that you set specific outcomes and objectives in a committee meeting before they are ready to determine resource allocation.

Flexibility is key in aligning resource allocation with district priorities and goals. Educational leaders should be able to adapt the budgetary process to changing circumstances, whether it be evolving student needs, shifting educational models, or new goals and priorities. This adaptability ensures that resources are effectively deployed to meet the evolving requirements of the educational landscape.

Call to Action

Resource allocation season is upon us. How are you planning on creating an effective resource allocation system so that you are creating an optimal educational environment in K-12 education? The four properties outlined by R9CC - equity, transparency, stakeholder engagement, and alignment with district goals - provide a robust framework for evaluating existing resource allocation practices and designing, and implementing improved resource allocation practices that foster positive educational outcomes.

As you and your colleagues strive to implement these properties, be mindful of the challenges associated with achieving equity, the importance of transparency in building trust, the need for stakeholder engagement, and the necessity of aligning resource allocation with overarching goals. By embracing and implementing these principles, K-12 education systems can lay the foundation for a more equitable, transparent, and effective resource allocation process that ultimately benefits students, educators, families, and communities alike.


Kevin N. Junk is a technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research® (AIR®). His work includes serving as a project lead for the Region 9 Comprehensive Center, as well as leading school improvement work in multiple states. He serves as a leadership coach and an instructional coach for districts across the country and participates in the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle study through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He specializes in school improvement and coaching district and school leaders on how to use data more effectively in their settings. Prior to joining AIR, Junk was a superintendent, building principal, and teacher in southern Illinois.

Drew Atchison is a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research. Atchison has helped conduct many studies related to school finance, including adequacy studies examining the cost of education in California, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Vermont. As part of these studies, Atchison led quantitative analyses examining how the cost of education varies across different types of schools and districts based on the students they serve and other school or district contextual cost factors. Atchison also led several studies examining the cost of certain educational interventions or strategies. For his dissertation research examining how school finance reform and accountability policies have impacted educational equity of inputs as well as outcomes, Atchison was awarded the Jean Flanigan Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Association of Education Finance and Policy. Atchison completed his doctorate degree in Education Policy from The George Washington University in 2017.