Zero Based Budgeting: Education First Up For Review

Walter Jones of the Morris News Service is out with a preview of how the state will tackle Zero Based Budgeting, where each government agency must recreate its budget from a blank sheet of paper every few years.  First up with be the department of education, including the state’s funding formula for public schools:

Zero-based budgeting calls for intensive examination of all aspects of government programs and their effectiveness. It’s different from how most of the budget is reviewed, because usually lawmakers only consider the few programs recommended for increases or cuts, while the bulk of the budget remains unexamined. Supporters of zero-based budgeting see it as a way to uncover waste and duplication.

The targets for the fiscal-year 2014 budget include 25 education programs such as school nurses, nutrition, agricultural education and Regional Education Service Agencies, according to a list released by Deal’s office.

Ordinarily, the funding formula might be a giant project to undertake, but the legislature already has it on its agenda. Deal appointed a commission of lawmakers, educators and citizens two years ago to review the formula. That commission already is due to make its recommendations in time for the start of next year’s legislative session.

A couple of notes: Most of my Republican friends assume Zero Based Budgeting will automatically mean cost savings.  In my day job of cost estimating labor projects and programs I will note that the most expensive cost estimates are the ground-up blank sheet estimates.

Much like “Comprehensive Tax Reform”, changing the funding formula for public schools will not just be an analysis of the bottom line.  There are likely to be winners and losers in the process.


  1. Calypso says:

    “In my day job of cost estimating labor projects and programs I will note that the most expensive cost estimates are the ground-up blank sheet estimates.”

    Might this be true because they are more accurate?

    • Charlie says:

      No. It’s because it usually represents the first pass. Consider it more of a wish list. Eventually budget contraints and a time search for efficiency force the numbers down, especially if you have a current baseline to compare against.

      While the goal is always to design a program to achieve all of our goals with the appropriate level of resources, eventually most estimates revert back to “how much can we do with what we already have?”.

      If there are cost savings, I doubt most will occur because we started with a blank sheet. More likely, it will be because existing programs are reviewed to see what can be cut, not because we decided to align our goals with the resources we decided were needed to achieve them.

      • Lawton Sack says:

        Is Georgia doing a true zero-based budget, though, or are they just requiring a justification for every budget item every year? Both take a lot of effort, but the second one does not start from a blank sheet.

          • Lawton Sack says:

            It matters who is defining it. I have seen zero-based budgeting work both ways. The more traditional way of budgeting is just to keep last year’s number unless an increase is justified. Some consider zero-based as having to justify every item every year. I was just curious of which way they are going with this. Blank sheet takes a lot of effort and will expend a lot of resources.

  2. cheapseats says:

    I don’t think zero-based budgeting has ever achieved the results that people expect. It usually just results in more overtime for the staff that has to prepare it if they take it seriously and, most of the time, they don’t.

    This is just more electioneering – another buzzword like “ethics reform” or (like in the old days) “local control”.

  3. John Konop says:

    1) If we embrace joint enrollment/AP style education for students not just at the top end, but for all. This will shorten the school cycle with creating skills for kids seeking work ie paying taxes. One of the biggest issue we have in Georgia is the lack of vocational skilled work force.
    2) we should kill the teach to the test NCLB style education. The testing and reporting requirements has ballooned the amount of administrators
    3) Consolidate colleges and cross utilize public high schools for classes
    4) Expand on line classes to even create a home school degree for kids at all levels.
    5) Let varsity school athletes use their sport as a PE requirement and allow the kids to start practice at the last period of the day. This would increase homework time and save money on PE teachers

    Just a start and I am sure many can add more…………….

    • Rambler1414 says:

      “2) we should kill the teach to the test NCLB style education. The testing and reporting requirements has ballooned the amount of administrators”

      How do you propose we quantify student achievement, reward good teachers and punish poor teachers without NCLB-style testing and reporting? Or do we quit doing that too?

      • Lawton Sack says:

        The State of Georgia has performance standards, which can be found at

        Teachers and administrators can evaluate if the students are being taught to these standards and evaluate that the standards are being met or not. Every lesson plan prepared by a teacher should be matched with at least one standard and evaluated by an administrator.

        • Rambler1414 says:

          How will teaching to a set of state performance standards improve student achievement,
          any better than teaching to a set of national benchmarks and tests?

          • Lawton Sack says:

            1. The idea is that Georgia can make the decision about the standards to be used, instead of national standards. It could even be taken down to the County level, if desired.

            2. Standards can be evaluated as you go, instead of testing all at once at the end of a school year. Currently, one test is accounting for so much and it usually comes too late to rectify any problems. You leave very little choice at the end of the year if you find out a student or group of students is deficient in a particular area. Of course, the same national standards could be tested as you go.

      • benevolus says:

        Also, you have to trust your administrators to some extent. Their job is to hire good people and get good work out of them. If their “jurisdiction” is consistently underperforming, maybe it’s time to fire thr administrator.

      • John Konop says:

        Good question:

        First if you use AP/Joint enrollment the system already test the kids to get credit, so further testing is redundant.

        Second if you expand the above options for more kids the above statement applies.

        Third schools districts should be graded on job placement, dropout rate and or entrance into college, everything else is just noise.

        Forth there is no correlation to over testing and student achievement. In fact the highest rated countries test way less than us.

        Finally no matter what we do some kids will fall through the cracks, in business less is better when tracking results and achievement in a project. The more variables you add, the less you will understand. By changing cut scores and test almost every year since NCLB, all we know is the system is going downhill.

        • Rambler1414 says:

          “Third, schools districts should be graded on job placement, dropout rate and or entrance into college, everything else is just noise.”

          If there is a way to break all of that up into scores for each Elementary, Middle and High school, I could go along with this.

          I agree with your premise of over-testing and changing priorities. My fear is that once something else takes over for NCLB (which is awful), we’re going to scrap the data-driven approach and get away from being able to measure student achievement and rewarding the good teachers, which are both very important.

          • John Konop says:

            That is a very valid point! Which why I am not against data tracking, just using a more focused scaled down approach. As far as bonus for teachers it should be based on 50% personal and 50% school system wide approach, tracking achievement of the end goal, of lower drop-out rate, job placement with skills and higher education placement. This would promote a team approach and also hurt teachers for just passing along kids. This could be easily set-up via a tracking system with simple formulas. Also I would add a pier approach to the formula, because if a teacher does not perform, they will weed them out with 50% bonus on the line. Obviously we would have noise via students moving in and out of the system, and that could be tracked separately for kids, not attending at least a few years in the system. Also by isolating that sub group it would also give us needed information……..This is not a perfect model which could improve over time, but it is better than what we have now.

            • taylor says:

              “As far as bonus for teachers it should be based on 50% personal and 50% school system wide approach, tracking achievement of the end goal, of lower drop-out rate, job placement with skills and higher education placement.”

              What we have now is the ability to take a child’s score on a curriculum-based test from one year and compare it to the score from the next year. Some kids’ percentiles move up and others move down. If there is a strong correlation between teachers and improvement, that is one measure of teacher performance.

              I can not imagine how a bonus to first grade teacher can be based on dropout rates, job placement, and high education placement. Those are broad measures relevant to measuring the success of an education system. There are better measures for assessing a teacher.

              • John Konop says:

                First, high stakes scores does not equate to bottom line success. Graduation with skills, jobs……are what counts in the real world.

                Second the reason I said 50 percent of the bonus is based on system results because there is a direct coralation between early education and drop out rate. Obviously on a personal bonus you would use a weighted scale based on grade.

                Finally the high stakes testing you are recommending has promoted cheating by all involved ie cut scores lowering, watering down the test, classroom cheating…….

                • John Konop says:

                  One more thing in the real world we do not hire based on grade point average or test scores in general. We look for a level of exceptable knowledge. Btw so does higher education ie medical, bar, CPA……. Did you ask your accountant,doctor,nurse….what they got on their final test before using them?

                  • taylor says:

                    One day I will have to visit this remarkable “real world” you speak of. In my world, you better have a high GPA (which is generally consistent with high test scores) if you are planning to get into a medical school or a law school. And both types of institutions require some sort of assessment of a candidate’s exceptional knowledge. I think you refer to those as “high stakes” tests.

                    But you are correct that I never discuss test scores with my accountant, doctor, or nurse. But the institutions that provided them with degrees, and the organizations that created the certification examinations both require examinations in an attempt to ensure those individuals have the knowledge for their profession.

                    • John Konop says:

                      I was talking about the final examination to practice. As i said it is based on an exceptable level. And in the business world it is very simular, if you fall into a good range you are fine. Most employees like myself weigh proven job skills and expierence over GPA.

                • taylor says:

                  I don’t disagree that there is correlation between early education and drop out rates. So, are you saying that the 2012 performance pay for a first grade teacher, maybe a year out of college, should be based on the system’s dropout rate for the class of 2011? I’m not sure what impact that teacher can be expected to have on students that dropped out of high school in 2009 and 2010, when he/she was in college.

                  • John Konop says:

                    I said 50 percent should be based on a weighted scale for multiple factors one being drop out rate system wide. I have always tied a good part of the bonus to the success of the company to promote team work. The current system does not promote team work.

                    If you work in the private sector many projects good or bad started before you were at the company, and it does effect your pay. And hopefully this make you think about how to improve the system not just your classroom. Your question makes my point about a need of a different culture that is promoted by carrots and sticks.

  4. saltycracker says:

    We’re talking budgeting in large organizations here:
    My favorite time in zero based budgeting was that fourth quarter when the mantra was if you don’t get that (account #) spent we’ll cut it way back next year.

    Typical example, advertising/promo dollars, spent unnecessarily in a good year if a division anticipates a soft year coming and more ads/promos would be needed the next.

    Before even talking budget a serious review of the purpose, timing, expected outcome and value should be required at all levels. But who has time for that ?

    There is no approach that can’t be screwed up. We must have great managers and elected or very clear and strict guidelines.

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