The Learning Accelerator Blog/Tools for School Financial Planning During COVID

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Tools for School Financial Planning During COVID

by Nithi Thomas on January 29 2021

In the spring of 2020, The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national nonprofit, launched the Always Ready for Learning (ARL) Coaching Network, a partnership among 13 education coaching organizations to provide K-12 leaders with pro-bono, customized guidance to help them improve teaching and learning during the pandemic. A critical challenge that education leaders sought to proactively address was the highly uncertain financial environment after schools closed for in-person instruction. Afton Partners, an ARL Coaching Network member and public education finance experts, provided targeted support to several school systems and charter networks, producing three concrete tools, contextualized in case studies that leaders can use as they finish the 2020-21 school year and begin financial planning for the 2021-22 school year, including:

  • 12-Month Cash Flow Projection Tool
  • Five-Year Projection Tool for Mid-Sized Districts
  • Cost Estimation Tool

Read on to learn more about each case study and tool. We hope these tools are helpful to you as you determine your own pathways forward. We’d also love to hear from you: what other finance questions are you dealing with? Let us know on Twitter @LearningAccel!

Cash Management and Planning for Reducing Organizational Risk

Overview of Case Study 1

  • What is the problem?: Amid the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, school districts must focus on cash management and planning in order to reduce organizational risk. This case study outlines support for a growing New York charter network with cash flow forecasting, budget scenario review and messaging, and long-term financial projections.
  • Who can use it?: Any CMO or school aiming to get a clear picture of their cash-flow model.
  • What is the tool?: Afton Partners has anonymized and shared a simple 12-month cash flow projection tool, allowing school networks (like the charter management organization [CMO] highlighted in this case) to project cash every month by leveraging the organization’s total annual budget and input assumptions on cash-flow timing.

Managing Uncertainties Around Funding in Mid-Sized Systems

Overview of Case Study 2

  • What is the problem?: School system teams navigated many unknowns as they were planning for the 2020-21 school year. These “unknowns” included managing uncertainty around a flat level of state per-pupil funding, planning for multiple instructional delivery methods, and tracking the additional cost of expenditures related to COVID-19.
  • Who can use it?: Any mid-size public school district (serving 7-10 schools) working to develop a long-term projection and understand the financial impact of different instructional models.
  • What is the tool?: Afton Partners has anonymized and shared a simple five-year, long-term projection tool, allowing districts to project financial impacts of changes to enrollment, funding, and expenditures over a long term. The model can help users identify the two-to-five-year impact of adjustments that are made today.

Planning for COVID-19 Expenditures

Overview of Case Study 3

  • What is the problem?: Due to COVID-19, schools now need to consider quantifying at least three different instructional delivery scenarios: in-person, fully remote, and hybrid – often dynamically in response to rapidly changing health and safety needs. Afton Partners reviewed publicly available information from other organizations in order to create a tool that helps school leaders estimate the extent of the resources required to operate under each of these three scenarios.
  • Who can use it?: Any school or system trying to plan around COVID-19 expenditures and learn about the implications for sustainability and success.
  • What is the tool?: Afton has anonymized and shared a cost-estimation model, allowing networks to project financial impacts on unknown operational supply needs. Each type of expense item can be tied to different drivers, aiding in the estimation of costs (or identifying cost differences if a driver changes).

About the Author

Nithi Thomas is Partner at The Learning Accelerator leading work on professional services. She is an expert in school design, implementation, professional development, and coaching in new learning models.