PurposePublic education is an important institution in any democracy, and the significant resources invested form a critical pillar in its provision. The evidence used to manage said resources is, therefore, an important issue for education leaders and a matter public interest. The purpose of this paper is to consider the role education finance leaders in Ontario, Canada, and what types of evidence they are using, how they are being employed and how much priority is given to each.Design/methodology/approachThe paper employs a review of Ontario’s K-12 education funding policies/reports, and interviews with five K-12 funding model experts/leaders – four business superintendents from school boards of varying sizes (based on enrollment) and one system leader (to introduce perspective from the two levels of governance in resource management) to understand how these experts use evidence to inform resource decision making. This sampling strategy was also grounded in a key assumption: School boards with larger enrollment – and consequently larger budgets – will have greater capacity to use all forms of evidence when managing resources, as the majority of board revenue comes from grants that are mostly based on enrollment.FindingsThe findings bring important definition and prioritization of evidence that inform leaders’ resource decision making in education. The results point to two tacit, normative, unacknowledged and, yet, competing evidence frameworks driving resource management. The government is the most influential, prioritizing strategic policy, performance data, fiscal context and professional judgment; values embedded in policy and research were mentioned only in passing, while local anecdotal types of evidence were given less priority. Compounding this challenge is that all sides in debates on school resource needs face issues of access to, transparency in the use of and the prioritization given to various evidence types.Research limitations/implicationsGovernments, with the assistance of academics, should formally articulate and make public the evidence framework they use to drive resource decision making. All sides of the resource management debate need to value a wider range of evidence, notably evidence that speak to local concerns, to reduce information gaps and, potentially, improve on the effective delivery of local educational programming. Education finance researchers could help to address access gaps by distilling research on the effective use of resources in a manner that is timely, tailored to the fiscal climate and to system- or district-level readiness for the implementation of a particular initiative.Practical implicationsResource management driven solely by “facts” can support student achievement outcomes and effective system operation, but alone will not satisfy local-level aspirations for education or inspire public confidence; a key ingredient for the sustainability of this public institution. The results could be used to improve the balance of “decent information” used to inform resource deliberations and establish a shared understanding across stakeholder groups to facilitate compromise. The current state of affairs has all sides in advancing claims for resource needs based on what they understand to be evidence all while portraying competing claims as uninformed, undermining public confidence in education.Originality/valueThe paper draws from interviews with business superintendents and a system-level funding model expert, both lesser studied leaders on this topic in the Canadian context; offers a clear articulation of the evidence frameworks at play and the priority given to each type and how they are being used; presents definition and prioritization of evidence from the perspective of leaders in the Canadian context (most of literature is from the USA) – experts acknowledge that resource knowledge is contextually contingent and insight generated from other contexts will help to advance the field.
International Journal of Educational Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jul 8, 2019
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