Unfunded Mandates

For a long time, I've thought about how difficult it is for schools to absorb top down decisions that come from state and federal lawmakers. Most of these decisions come with unintended financial consequences that create tough trade offs from already thin budgets. Over the last two decades, it feels as though a swarm of small decisions have created bugs in the system that erode the quality of the learning possible in classrooms. This reality certainly isn't an excuse as schools usually figure out a way to absorb additional burdens in mostly transparent ways. 


Each of these unfunded mandates though eat away at potential pools of money for innovation and transformation. Schools looking to change in significant and urgent ways have only a few choices, minimize their compliance with these top down decisions, seek new revenue streams (often this looks like informal tax increases in the way of fundraisers, booster clubs, and parent fees), or fall into deficit spending. All of these choices are really difficult ones for schools that are looking to move from urgent to significant. Innovation can't be sustained without open conversations about decisions past and present that feel like unfunded mandates on the system. There are ways to have productive, solution-oriented conversations about how to remove these barriers and build innovation momentum for kids.