Budget Crisis Lessons

A Better Chicago invited KIPP Los Angeles (KIPP LA) to meet with Chicago school leaders in our portfolio and beyond to share best practices and lessons learned from the school’s experience in overcoming a greater than 25% budget cut between 2008 and 2010.  During the meeting, Marcia Aaron, the executive director of KIPP LA and Kyle Salyer, KIPP LA’s chief of finance and operations, walked through the strategies the organization leveraged to overcome the budget crisis and increase student achievement in the process.

In 2008 all-in per pupil funding in LA was $9,000 and by 2010 that amount dropped to $6,600. Due to the magnitude of this decrease, KIPP LA realized that incremental changes in their model and operations would not lead to success; significant and comprehensive changes were necessary to not only survive the cuts, but to realize their mission to improve student outcomes.

The KIPP LA leaders shared the following lessons to survive and thrive in a budget crisis:

1. Increase the number of students served. In a world of per pupil funding, more students means more funding. KIPP LA increased enrollment by 29% for its middle grades model and 15% for its elementary model

2. Seek alternative revenue sources. KIPP LA started an after school program that only required a minimal increase in staff hours while opening up a significant increase in state funding. Additionally, KIPP LA increased fundraising efforts at both the school and charter management organization (CMO) level

3. Find easy cuts. Cut non-critical spending during a time of crisis such as travel, supplies, events, external professional development and student field lessons. As the budget crisis lessened, KIPP LA began to reinvest in these areas

4. Shift the academic model to effectively serve the increased number of students. KIPP LA implemented a blended learning model which combined high-quality, small group instruction with a targeted use of personalized instructional technology

5. Modify your hiring strategy. KIPP LA hired only critical positions and utilized part-time staff where possible, including family and community members to work lunch hours and recess. This part-time strategy allowed teachers time to plan and minimized teacher burnout

6. Seek low total cost solutions. Leveraging Google Chromebooks, which according to KIPP LA are far cheaper and easier to support than PCs, was one strategy adopted by the organization to cut cost. KIPP LA also purchased Apple MacBooks for administrative staff instead of PCs because of low maintenance costs which unlocked savings over time

7. Continue key investments. Despite significant budget cuts, KIPP LA increased salaries each year and increased technology investments

As a result of these strategies, KIPP LA was not only able to increase the number of students served from 760 to 2,200 during this period of time, the organization also increased student achievement and retained 80% of its teachers. By prioritizing what was important and seeking creative solutions, KIPP LA thrived during a time when conditions were ripe for failure.

This meeting between KIPP LA and local school leaders helped to spark new ideas for overcoming our local budget crisis. Going forward, A Better Chicago will continue to convene audiences around topics that support improving educational opportunities for our city’s youth. To stay connected and learn of future opportunities to engage, please join our community.