School Finance

APA Consulting has been a leader in school finance nationally for over thirty years. We have worked in all fifty states and the District of Columbia addressing school finance issues. A number of states use school finance funding formulas developed wholly or in part by APA staff. Over the past fifteen years APA has helped lead the movement from focusing on the equity of state funding systems to the adequacy of these systems. This change focuses states on examining what it takes for all students to meet the educational standards set by the state. The shift to adequacy has made ensuring there are adequate resources for all students - especially those with special needs such as students in special education, those at-risk of academic failure, and English Language Learners - is the focus of state funding systems. The APA school finance team includes Justin Silverstein, John Myers, Mark Fermanich, Bob Palaich, Amanda Brown and Kathryn Rooney. Between them they have more than 100 years of combined experience examining school finance issues. Past President, John Augenblick, though recently retired, still serves as an adviser on many school finance projects.

Please click on the links below to learn more about our work in School Finance.  To download a fact sheet summarizing our work in this area, please click here.

APA works closely with policymakers, practitioners, and stakeholders to estimate the cost of programs or policies. We first work with the client to understand the parameters of the program or policy and the desired outcomes, and then develop a process to collect the pertinent resource information related to the program or policy. These processes include interviewing practitioners and stakeholders, collecting data onsite, or utilizing collection devices, sometimes web-based, to collect data. APA examines all aspects of the program or policy and using this context, creates an estimate of the cost of meeting the desired outcomes. The results can be used by policymakers and stakeholders to design policy to help ensure success. Recent examples of this work include costing out the Preschool to Postsecondary Education Alignment Act, Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K), for the Colorado Department of Education and the Linked Learning program for the James Irvine Foundation.
In the early 1990s states across the country began to implement Standards Based Reform (SBR). Under SBR states set the standards they wish students to meet, then create assessments to measure how well students are performing and hold students, schools, and districts accountable for that performance. One key question that is not always answered is what resources are necessary to ensure students, schools, and districts can meet the standards set by the state. APA has led the work nationally to answer this question for states. We focus on understanding the resource needs of all students and the additional resources needed for those with special needs (special education, at-risk, ELL students, and gifted). We have conducted over 20 adequacy studies across the country over the past eighteen years. States that have implemented the results of APA’s work include Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Mississippi, and Louisiana. Four approaches have been developed to examine what the adequate resources are in a state to meet standard. They include the Professional Judgment (PJ), Successful School District (SSD), Evidence-Based (EB), and Cost Function (CF) approaches. APA has experience implementing all four approaches in its studies. We created the SSD approach during our work in Ohio in the mid-1990s and have refined the PJ approach by being the leading implementer of this approach over the past decade and a half. APA believes using multiple approaches provides the best estimate of adequacy for a state. Using the different approaches allows the state to fully understand the resource needs for different student populations and for unique district or school circumstances.
K-12 funding is generally among the largest expenditures for a state. Each state has to make specific decisions on how to allocate funds to schools and districts. APA has been helping states analyze and create these systems for over thirty years. Our focus is to work with the state to understand its priorities for funding, and then APA can analyze how well current systems are meeting the state’s adequacy and equity goals. APA can also help the state adjust the current formula or design a new formula better aligned on state’s priorities. Some examples of recent work on state school finance formulas include work done for North Carolina and New Jersey.
For states and districts it is important to understand how to effectively use the limited resources available for education. The research and literature are growing on the types of educational interventions and programs that show promising returns on investment for states and districts. APA tracks this research and has worked with various stakeholder groups to understand how implementing dollars in specific ways can lead to the best overall return on investment. Examples of projects that include return on investment analysis are the New York State Early Childhood Cost Estimation Model, the Colorado Early Investment Model, and the Children’s Services Council Palm Beach County Early Childhood Cost Model.  We have also worked with the Piton Foundation to look at Social Investment Bonds that build on the return on investment work to explore how to use private funding to expand successful educational programs.
Districts strive to use resources as wisely as possible, targeting as many dollars as they can to classrooms. APA has worked with numerous districts to assist them in this effort looking at issues including facility usage, labor market competitiveness, and student based budgeting.

  • For Littleton Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools we have helped them evaluate their facility usage. The examinations looked at the capacity usage of all buildings and the education programs each school can provide. Working through large community engagement processes APA helped the districts create an efficient and effective use of school buildings.
  • We also help districts examine their competitiveness in the labor market. APA works with districts to identify their competitors, either locally or nationally, and evaluates how competitive the district is in attracting and retaining qualified staff. The examination can include salary levels, benefit packages, and working conditions.
  • Like states, districts must figure out the most effective way to allocate resources. Districts have various approaches to allocating resources to their schools. The APA school finance team has worked with multiple districts to examine their funding approach. Over the past five years we have worked closely with the Poudre School District on their innovative Student Based Budgeting approach. The district utilizes a system similar to a state weighted student formula to allocate funds to schools. School leaders then are tasked to manage a site-based budget that best fits the schools’ priorities. APA helped the district create the school size adjustment and to evaluate the program after its first five years of implementation.