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Nicki Perkins

Nicki Perkins is the Director of Communications and Development for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. She began working at CCER as a Graduate Fellow while earning her JD from the University of Connecticut School of Law. During that time, she helped CCER to establish priorities and associated briefs for the 2012 legislative session, and she also conducted research on Connecticut’s then-existing statutory provisions as compared to corresponding statutes from other states. Currently, Nicki manages CCER’s efforts to raise public awareness and garner support for the organization. She also continues to support CCER’s research and policy work.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CCER Chooses Vernon as Winner of Common Core Contest

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799


CCER Chooses Vernon as Winner of Common Core Contest 

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 10, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that Vernon Public Schools has won CCER’s Common Core Communications Contest. The contest was designed to showcase the creative and effective methods that districts and schools have used to communicate with parents about the Common Core. Vernon is one of only three winners.Read More »

Some Considerations Before Embarking Upon Implementation

Student-based budgeting will be most effective when it is integrated into a larger district-wide strategy for improvement. But changing the manner in which a district allocates funding to schools is no small undertaking. The following is a cursory list of some considerations and challenges that districts might want to address before undertaking student-based budgeting.

Determining Which Resources to Include in the Student-Based Budgeting Formula

Clearly, a district that implements a student-based budgeting system will not entirely eliminate all district-level resources in favor of school-level budgets. Therefore, when a district moves to student-based budgeting, it will need to determine which line-items can be pooled and distributed through the student-based budgeting formula, and which will remain locked—strictly for district allocation.

At a 2010 summit on student-based budgeting, most of the 14 participating districts that were implementing student-based budgeting kept centralized control over bulk purchases and district-wide services, but they gave schools control over general education, ELL, and professional development. Over other areas—such as special education, custodial services, and technology–there was less agreement about whether districts or schools should retain control.

Funds pooled for student-based budgeting should be both school-based and unrestricted. In determining which resources to allocate, a district should also consider—among other things:

  • The district’s vision of the roles that will be played by principals; this influences the degree of autonomy they should be given over school-level budgets.
  • Whether the district wants to trust individual schools to exercise discretion on issues of health and safety
  • Whether the district needs to retain responsibility over compliance issues for which the district is, itself, accountable to the state and federal governments.
  • Whether economies of scale mean it makes more sense for the district to pay for certain expenses in bulk.

For a more detailed analysis of this strategic process, see ERS’ guide to implemented student-based budgeting, here. 

Dealing with Projected v. Actual Enrollment

Student-based budgeting systems require more detailed and accurate enrollment projections than traditional funding systems. Because districts need to allocate funding based upon weights for different types of students, the district must estimate precisely how many ELL, low-income, special education (etc.) students will be enrolled in each school.

When enrollment projections are off, or when students move in the middle of the school year, funding is off. Schools will then need to have funding added or subtracted from their budgets after the school year has already begun.

Districts will need to develop a clean strategy for making adjustments throughout the school year. 

Choosing Between Average and Actual Salary

In building school budgets, the leader who is developing the budget will need to plan based upon the salaries of their staff. They can either do this by estimating the required funding based upon average salaries, or they can use the actual salaries of their staff.

It is far easier to use actual salaries, because they are more precise. However, there are (at least) two problems with using actual salaries:

  • If budgets are based upon actual salaries, then schools with more experienced teachers cost more, so they use more of the district’s resources and divert money from schools with less experienced staff;
  • If school leaders have control over staffing, using actual salaries for budgeting can give them an incentive to hire less expensive teachers so that they can save money.

For these reasons, most districts use average salaries, rather than actual salaries, for budgeting purposes. 

Being Prepared to Adjust

Since student-based budgeting is complicated, districts should be prepared to adjust the formula over time. Additionally, districts will likely need to adjust their planning schedules for the school year. Under a traditional funding system, a district likely set its budget first, then staffed schools, then created academic plans. Now, the district may need to do this planning in the reverse order because the budgeting and staffing are based on the needs of students. 

Providing Professional Development

How to develop an effective school budget is not a part of most school leader training programs. As a result, school leaders are going to learn how to build a budget and allocate their resources wisely. Therefore, districts need to invest heavily in professional development so school leaders make the best use of greater autonomy. Additionally, district-level staff will need professional development to help them shift to a new framework in which they serve schools, rather than control them.

 Additionally, this professional development might need to be accompanied by a new data system that will track funding allocation and inform decision-making.

Closing Under-Enrolled Schools

Particularly when student-based budgeting is tied to school choice, districts will need to address declining enrollment in some schools. Districts should be prepared to establish a certain minimum enrollment at which funding a school makes sense. Otherwise, an open but under-enrolled school will actually be diverting funds from the rest of the district (including funds that could be part of the student-based budgeting pool).

Acknowledging Collective Bargaining as a Potential Barrier

School leaders can’t truly have the autonomy over their schools until they have the power to hire the staff they need and let go of the staff they don’t. However, they are often limited by collective bargaining agreements. This is a significant hurdle if student-based bargaining is being used as part of a larger strategy to raise school-level accountability and flexibility.

Weights Leaders SBB


  • Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2010). Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Calvo, N. (2011). Opportunities and Challenges of Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Education Resource Strategies (2010). Fair Student Funding Summit: Conference Proceedings and Recommendations for Action. Read it here.
  • Education Resource Strategies (2014). Transforming School Funding: A Gude to Implementing Student-Based Budgeting (SBB). Read it here.
  • Furtick, K. and Snell, L. (2013). Weighted Student Formula Yearbook: Overview. Read it here.

Empowering Schools and Leaders

“The whole point of getting more resources to schools that have students with greater challenges and allocating dollars instead of staff is to empower school leaders to organize resources in new ways that better meet student needs.” 

Karen Hawley Miles
President and Executive Director of Education Resource Strategies

Student-based budgeting can certainly be implemented solely as a funding mechanism, but Education Resource Strategies and others strongly advocate for making it one element of a plan to increase the autonomy of school leaders.

It is usually difficult for schools to innovate and adapt quickly in traditional funding systems because district-wide structures impede resource re-allocation. If student-based budgeting is done properly, it can grant principals greater flexibility so that they can leverage their school-level resources in ways that better meet student needs.

Reason RankingIn comparing several districts that have implemented student-based budgeting, the Reason Foundation noted significant performance differences between Houston and Baltimore. The Foundation posited that this may be because Houston (which performed extremely well on their assessment criteria) gave its principals a high level of budget autonomy. Houston gave its principals discretion over 43% of the district’s budget, while Baltimore only allocated 29% of funds directly to schools. The Foundation has stated that there is a relationship between higher budget autonomy and better district performance, one that merits further study.

Indeed, allowing school leaders to have greater autonomy and control over their budgets increases flexibility and the ability to innovate. After all, different schools face different challenges and should be able to set different goals and align resources accordingly.

District staffing rules that require compliance may not necessarily jive with school-level needs. For instance, if the districts adds instructional coaches to all schools, not all principals will necessarily have strategies for what that new staff member will do. Instead, a principal who doesn’t need to focus as much on improving teacher quality might want to leverage those resources towards extending the school day.

In 2010, Matthew Hornbeck, principal of a Baltimore school explained, “I purchased a full-time registered nurse because
 we have a number of kids who have epilepsy and a kid with cerebral palsy and lots of kids with asthma. That costs $30,125, and so I can just put that in my budget… It’s very empowering to have that information at your fingertips where you can see it, you can change it, you can submit it, and you can defend it.”

However, districts that decide to implement student-based budgeting should beware of potential pitfalls. Giving this level of autonomy to principals requires them to shift their roles, becoming more like CEOs. In order for it to work well, principals need to receive a lot of professional development on how to manage their budgets and use resources strategically before the system is rolled out.

Considerations  Weights SBB


  • Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2010). Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Calvo, N. (2011). Opportunities and Challenges of Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.



What is Student-based Budgeting?

In the past, we’ve talked about the need to overhaul how Connecticut funds its public schools. Across the country, policymakers and educators are thinking about how we can do a better job of allocating money to schools.

Under the traditional funding model, resources are distributed to schools in the form of staff and dollars that are earmarked for specific purposes. Often, this distribution is based upon formulas that allocate staffing positions based upon the number of students at each school. Although this method of distributing resources to schools was likely designed initially to be fair, it shortchanges our neediest schools and creates several problems:

  • Even though different schools have different student populations with diverse needs, this funding model assumes that a “one-size fits all” strategy will work for all kids.
  • Funding that is designated to provide additional resources to the neediest student populations goes to the district, rather than the schools that the students attend.
  • Because the formulas are based upon staffing ratios, there is often a “cliff effect” where small increases in enrollment can drastically skew staffing ratios.
  • It is more difficult to hold schools and school leaders accountable for results when they lack control over budgeting and resources.
  • This funding system is so complicated that we sometimes feel pressure to meet many other needs before the needs of students.

Student-based budgeting (sometimes called “money follows the child,” “weighted student funding,” and “fair student funding”) attempts to solve many of these problems by shifting the focus of allocation to students’ needs, rather than strict staffing ratios.

In the student-based budgeting model, districts allocate dollars to schools (rather than staff), based upon the number of Read More »

Assigning Weights for Student Need

It may not be apparent at first, but if we want funding to be fair for students, then we actually need to apply different weights for different types of students because some cost more to educate than others. If we didn’t make adjustments for these costs, then students who attended schools with needier student bodies would effectively receive less funding than they should. For funding to be fair, student-based budgeting must be weighted.

Within a district, a general education student at one school should draw the same dollars as her equivalent in another school. Similarly, students with greater needs should receive more funding; but the same types of needs should get the same amount of funding.

This means that a solid student-based budgeting formula will have three components: a foundation (the minimum funding to “keep the lights on,” particularly in a small school), a base weight (the cost of educating a general education student), and student-based adjustment(s) (weights for student need).

Under a weighted student formula, we are actually giving schools the amount of funding that matches student need, rather than using rigid staffing ratios to determine funding allocation.

That makes sense in theory, but (at least for now) districts implementing student-based budgeting will need to sort out the weights for themselves. There simply is no clearly “right” answer as to which needs should be weighted or how much they should each be worth. And for every weight that a district adds, it reduces the base weight because the pool of resources is ultimately finite.

According to ERS, districts implementing student-based budgeting must discuss “what the appropriate funding level is for high-need students, whether high school students cost more or less to educate than elementary school students, how much more it costs to run a small school or a specialty school, and whether it is worth the extra cost.” Then, they need to model it, test it out, and adapt it to find what works.

Hartford Weights

As more districts begin to implement student-based budgeting formulas, we hope to better understand which weights work best. This is one of many complicated considerations that a district will have to contemplate if it is going to implement student-based budgeting.

In a student-based budgeting system, districts assign weights to determine how funds should be allocated among schools. However, this is separate from Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula, which also uses weights—but to determine how the state should allocate funds among schools. In attempting to fund education fairly, our state will need to consider both how the state funds districts and how districts fund schools.


Considerations   Leaders SBB


  • Annenberg Institute for School Reform (2010). Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Calvo, N. (2011). Opportunities and Challenges of Student-Based Budgeting. Read it here.
  • Education Resource Strategies (2010). Student-Based Budgeting: A Potentially Powerful Tool in Tough Times. Read it here.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Aetna Foundation President Joins CCER Board of Directors

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799

Aetna Foundation President Joins CCER Board of Directors

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 8, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) has appointed to its Board of Directors Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation.

Dr. Graham is responsible for the Foundation’s philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care.

Previously, Graham served as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he also led the Office of Minority Health. He holds a medical degree from Yale School of Medicine, a master’s in public health from Yale School of Public Health, and a bachelor of science in biology from Florida International University in Miami.

CCER Board Chair Steve Simmons said, “We are honored to welcome Garth Graham to the Board. He has shown a strong commitment to supporting underserved communities, and we are grateful that he has joined our mission to narrow Connecticut’s achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.”

In addition to its newest member, CCER Board Members include:Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Travelers Vice Chairman Joins CCER Board of Directors

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799

Travelers Vice Chairman Joins CCER Board of Directors

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 8, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) has appointed to its Board of Directors Alan Schnitzer, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Business and International Insurance at The Travelers Companies, Inc.

At Travelers, Schnitzer also oversees Field Management, Corporate Communications and Public Policy.

“It is a privilege to join an organization that is doing such terrific work for Connecticut’s kids,” said Schnitzer. “The future success of our communities rests with the opportunities we provide our children, and education is at the core.”

Schnitzer also serves on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Investment Advisory Committee created under the Dodd-Frank Act and the Advisory Board for the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research, and he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He earned his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in finance and accounting and his J.D. from Columbia Law School.

CCER Board Chair Steven Simmons said, “I am very pleased to welcome Alan Schnitzer to the Board. His business acumen will be a huge asset to our organization.”

Mr. Schnitzer will be filling the seat formerly held by Brian MacLean, President and COO of Travelers.

Regarding Mr. MacLean’s stepping down from the Board, Mr. Simmons said, “We greatly appreciate Brian’s many contributions to CCER, and I want to take this opportunity to wish him well. We are grateful to Travelers for its continued commitment to CCER’s mission of narrowing Connecticut’s achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.”

In addition to Alan Schnitzer, CCER Board Members include:Read More »

Expanded Time Spreads Through Meriden

Yesterday, we attended the launch of the TIME Collaborative at Roger Sherman Elementary School. Because we’re so excited about the promise of this program, we wanted to share our experience of visiting two other Meriden schools that are already into the process of implementing extended time in partnership with TIME.

Imagine a learning environment in which children are provided with lessons beyond those normally presented in a traditional curriculum; a place where creativity and exploration are encouraged and nurtured; a place where enrichment is provided not only for the mind, but also for the body and spirit. The good news is that you do not need to imagine such a place because it actually exists in the extended day programs at Casimir Pulaski School and John Barry School in Meriden, Connecticut.Read More »

CTNewsJunkie: Pryor Won’t Stay for Second Term

by Christine Stuart And Hugh McQuaid

If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wins re-election, controversial Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will not be part of the package, the administration announced Monday.

According to a press release, Pryor does not plan to serve for a second term and is “actively seeking new professional opportunities.”

“Commissioner Pryor has worked hard and well on behalf of Connecticut students,” Malloy said in a statement. “In the three years he’s led the department, we’ve taken tremendous steps forward to improve education, with a particular focus on the districts that have long needed the most help. We needed someone who could act as a change agent, and Stefan fulfilled that role admirably.”

Malloy appointed Pryor after taking office in 2011. His background as the co-founder of the New Haven public charter school, the Amistad Academy, made him a controversial choice with the state teacher unions.

Since then, Pryor has become a lightning rod for critics of Malloy’s education reform package, which some regard as hostile to public school teachers.Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CCER Thanks Commissioner Pryor and Reflects on His Service

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: 203-506-5799

CCER Thanks Commissioner Pryor and Reflects on His Service

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, August 18, 2014, Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, has announced that he will step down as Commissioner in December 2014. In response, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) released the following statement:

During the past three years under Pryor’s leadership, Connecticut has experienced the passage and implementation of sweeping education reform policies. The state has seen changes in how teachers are evaluated, the implementation of the Common Core, and the establishment of a framework for intervention that includes both the Alliance Districts and Commissioner’s Network. Throughout, Commissioner Pryor has supported innovations such as the expansion of charter schools and early childhood programming.

Reflecting on Pryor’s service, CCER Board Chair Steve Simmons said, “Stefan Pryor has been an outstanding Commissioner of Education and a real force for change. He has shepherded improvements in K-12 education that will have a meaningful and long-lasting, positive impact on our public schools. On behalf of CCER, I want to wish him well in his future endeavors and thank him for all he has done for the children in our state.”Read More »

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