Today, state education agencies (SEAs) are at various ​​stages ​of ​​conducting ​ESSA-required resource allocation reviews (RARs) ​to support​ ​local education agencies (LEAs) ​that serve ​a significant number of ​low-performing schools. ​In this Q&A​, RAR ​​project leads​​ ​​​with ​the Region 15 Comprehensive Center​ (R15CC)​, Alicia Bowman and Tia Taylor, talk about what they have learned over four years of working with states to create processes that enable leaders to examine the connection between ​resource allocation and academic outcomes​.

Stay tuned next month, when R15CC will release detailed learnings from this work regarding how to design and implement RARs and identify resource inequities.

What are “Resource Allocation Reviews,” or “RARs”?

Bowman: The RAR​,​ in essence​,​ is a process​, required by ESSA,​ to ​ensure​ LEAs ​are​​ ​​identify​​ing​ and ​addressing​ resource inequities. T​hat is​​,​​ RARs look at how resources are currently being used, whether students who need support the most are receiving it, and whether changes to address inequities are effective. ​

Taylor: T​​here are two major components​​ in the improvement process​​ ​​to consider. T​​he first is around resource allocation, which occurs during the planning stage, in which LEAs and schools that qualify ​​for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI), and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) ​​must identify and address resource inequities in each respective improvement plan. The second is the RAR itself, wherein the SEA must conduct a resource allocation review of ​​LEA​​s​​ with a significant number of schools that are CSI, TSI, and ATSI. ​     ​​​​     ​​​

You are coming out of an intensive 4-year RAR design process working with multiple states. What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned?

Taylor: One of the biggest​ learnings​ is that SEA leaders do​ ​n​o​t often give themselves permission to take time to design ​processes​. We operate at a rapid pace where we feel like we must respond and react and create and deliver immediately ​rather than take the time necessary to create something meaningful and helpful for LEAs and schools​.​ Our LEAs and schools are inundated with countless requirements. Oftentimes, adding more requirements draws valuable time away from teaching and learning initiatives. It is important to integrate the RAR into existing planning and review processes to limit the burden on LEAs and schools while at the same time enabling them to address resource inequities.​

​​​Bowman: A lot of existing structures can be used to support this work. F​​or example, in Utah​​, as part of their system of support​​ ​​they​​ offered collaborative meetings, called Equity Labs,​​ ​​to ​​LEAs​​ with significant numbers of schools in CSI, TSI, and ATSI status. They​​ ​​reviewed data, identified learning gaps, ​​grew people’s foundational understanding of “educational resources,” ​​and explored ​​how ​​to better use existing​​ resources to improve outcomes for students.​​​​​​​​

​​I would add that there is not currently a universal definition of what we mean by “resources.” People think about “resources” as ​primarily ​financial​ or simply as “people, time, and money.”​​ Resources are so much more.​ ​To​ do this work well, ​the RAR​ must be​ implemented ​across the entire agency, not just one ​department or division ​like fiscal or ​federal ​programs. ​E​​ach department ​need​s​ to work together. Everyone allocates resources. ​Establishing a shared understanding of what we mean by “resources” and “resource inequities” is an important starting point for this work—not just for the RAR team but across the entire SEA/LEA/school system.​​ ​​
For example, recently I had a conversation about the concept of turnaround leadership. The realization was that to be a turnaround leader, you have to be really savvy with limited resources to address a lot of needs​​.​​​​​​ Being able ​​to make decisions so that resources are benefiting your students is a skill. A lot of capacity building needs to happen in this space.​​​

Taylor: In every state where we have introduced the concept of “resources beyond funding,” the response we get is, “I never thought of resources in that way.” After ​​going deeper​​ into equitable resource allocation, we find many school leaders are onboard and would rather receive the resources they truly need versus the same resources the LEA tends to allocate year after year. Also, we are working with SEAs that very much want to be in partnership with their schools. For them, the focus is on establishing trust. There is definitely a will there, but SEAs are still trying to find their way through conducting the RAR as a conversation centered around support. On one hand, you must be the monitor and do the compliance work, but at same time you want to provide support and have people trust you enough to share their vulnerabilities and the areas in which they need help.​​ ​​​Finally,​​ ​​I​​ would add ​​that​​ SEAs ​​need ​​to develop a clear process for onboarding new SEA staff to the RAR.​​The field of education is prone to high turnover. Having a plan in place for new staff to be able to pick up and run with the RAR process is really important.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

It is important to integrate the RAR into existing planning and review processes to limit the burden on LEAs and schools while at the same time enabling them to address resource inequities.​

What did you learn from holding RAR webinars with SEA leaders nationally?

Bowman: I repeatedly heard that people felt some relief that everybody was grappling with ​the RAR​, and nobody had answers. It is nice to not be alone in such uncertainty. It helped people feel more confident that they could make decisions, and although the​ir​ initial decisions might not be perfect, they weren’t the only ones in that place—everyone was trying to get there. As they get more information, that co​nfidence​ is growing.
​​Many of our SEAs are very small, with not a whole lot of people. It is great to open dialogue across states—now many are reaching out to each other.​​​

Taylor: Something that came through in the feedback was that ​SEA leaders want to learn and grow together. The dream is to ​create​ space where we can share nationally some of the ways we have been able to identify and address resource inequities​.​ LEAs and schools are doing really awesome things. How​ wonderful it would be to have a platform where our learning​s can be shared.

Bowman: Right. Like, “Where are you actually getting the positive impact that you want?” “How can you scale that?” If ​we ​are having success in ​a ​particular area, how can ​we ​scale that to another area?​”​ The RAR is a catalyst for many such conversations.

What is the ultimate promise of this work?

Bowman: The goal is to be able to see that resources ​are not ​allocated based on project or ​budget ​codes or allowable expenditures but are instead allocated based on student needs and blended and braided in ways so that students get what they need most—so that they are successful.
Taylor: ​I​ ​also hope to​ see ​the lack of ​financial resources​ ​​no longer be​ an excuse for why ​students are not receiving the services and supports they need​. ​​​​​​The dream would be to get to a place where we can be ​very strategic and intentional in coordinating available resources within LEAs across ​schools, within states across LEAs, ​or​ perhaps even​ across relevant state agencies and community-based organizations​ to ensure all are receiving the available resources they need to thrive​.​​​​​

View the Resource Allocation Review Webinars At the Links Below

The Region 15 Comprehensive Center works with state education agencies and their regional and local constituents in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah to improve outcomes for all children and better serve communities through capacity-building technical assistance.

The contents of this post were developed by the Region 15 Comprehensive Center. The Region 15 Comprehensive Center is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the contents of this post do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.