School Business Affairs February 2019 SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS | FEBRUARY 2019 25 that affect their buildings directly.” They have been acting as instructional leaders, not finance managers working to improve the return on investment. “School finance is set to become an important lens into good schooling...” This will also be a new communications challenge for school leaders. Beyond getting the data clean and reliable, there is the challenge of making sure every- one knows what they mean and how to discuss them. Questions will immediately emerge. For instance: Why is it that one elementary school gets $1,800 more per pupil of state funds than the higher-needs school on the other side of town? Does this reflect an intentional invest- ment decision, or is the higher spending the product of more teacher seniority, or is there something wrong in the data? Taking the stakes even higher, the data will reside alongside academic proficiency and growth data on these report cards. This information is manna for local education beat reporters, school board members, par- ents, and engaged community members trying to figure out whether local leadership and policies are working as promised. It will take school leaders time to iron out all of the errors and anomalies and to be able to talk about it in a way that parents, school board members, labor unions, and the community can understand. This will demand a careful communication strategy. Phase Two: Strategic Response School leaders will, over a year or two, likely shift from a reactionary relationship with this information to a productive and strategic one. One probable response will be to adopt a model of continuous improvement that considers whether investments in personnel and non-personnel matters are productive. Is the investment producing the anticipated learning outcome or behavior change among students, staff, and administration? If it is, the investment should grow. If not, then a realloca- tion of resources may be necessary. This is the kind of work that Schenectady City Schools in New York has been advancing with their return on investment program evaluation model. At a recent edu- cation finance summit organized by Allovue, the district presented on how it began the program when budgets were declining, and had to decide what to cut and what to keep. When the economy and their budgets recovered, they kept the model to help them invest only in programs that worked for their students. For example, if a pro- gram costs $81,000 to operate and there are 66 students who succeed, as defined by the district, then the cost of success is about $1,227 per student. That information is then central to program and investment conversations that the school has internally and with the community. The Schenectady approach is likely to become more common because this is also what ESSA is asking of its grantees. Everything about the law encourages its grantees to make investments that are evidence-based, effective, and continuously scrutinized by a rigor- ous implementation program. In some cases, for both federal and state programs, it’s even a statutory require- ment. Prudent strategic investment strategies are at the core of good ESSA grant management and program implementation. Phase Three: Growth of the Market After a period of tinkering and exploring approaches to investment strategies that manage the convergence of academic and fiscal data, some solutions will take hold. Financial models that align spending with student suc- cess will become more commonly understood. The topic will become a conference mainstay and, dare we say, even sexy. That’s when the market for school business intelli- gence that incorporates fiscal data will become attractive. People will want to pigeonhole the chief financial officer into conversations. The loquacious ones will be sought after for panels and events. The mechanics of finance and expenditures will still be dry, but they will have a strong connection to effective educational investments and the classroom practices that can open minds and change the course of lives and communities. David DeSchryver (@ddeschryver) is senior vice president and co-director of research at Whiteboard Advisors. Noelle Ellerson Ng (@Noellerson) is associate executive direc- tor for policy and advocacy at The School Superintendent’s Association and legislative liaison for ASBO International. This article was originally published by EdSurge on November 19, 2018, at Reprinted with permission. INDEX OF ADVERTISERS American Fidelity Assurance  Company. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . back cover DecisionInsite, LLC. . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 17 KPN / PEPPM CSIU Cooperative Purchasing . . page 32 Security Benefit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . page 3