Washington, D.C. — A pair of reports released today by the Center for American Progress show that the chief financial officer, or CFO, is playing an increasingly important role in America’s public schools. However, the new research also suggests that CFOs might not be up to all of the challenges of their new responsibilities, with only 34 percent of school business officials report feeling “very prepared” to be involved in decisions around instructional resources.
As states and districts continue to face constrained budgets, the school CFO now has the important responsibility of thinking strategically about how to produce high standards with limited resources. The first report, “The New Education CFO: From Scorekeeper to Strategic Leader,” details how many CFOs are responding to today’s more complex fiscal environment by becoming what’s described as a “strategic CFO”—a chief accountant and valued partner who brings analytic expertise to high-level strategic decisions.
According to the report, there is some evidence that the shift from CFO to strategic CFO is already taking place. In July 2013, the authors of the report partnered with the Association of School Business Officials International to conduct a survey of its membership and found that a large majority of respondents perceived their role as that of a strategic partner. However, the data also reveal that many districts may not support CFOs in those ambitions. In other words, CFOs are not truly involved in all of key school decisions and many barriers remain.
“When it comes to school finance, we need to focus on two pressing issues, spending equity and spending effectiveness,” says Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at CAP and co-author of the report. “School CFOs are central to making better fiscal decisions.”
The research makes clear that bolstering the role of the school district CFOs will be difficult. But policymakers, SEAs, and education reformers can do far more to give school CFOs the training and capacity they need, and the report presents new research and offers recommendations on how best to develop the next generation of strategic CFOs.
The second report, “The Promise of Education Information Systems: How Technology Can Improve School Management and Success,” argues that management technology holds the potential to create game-changing transformation in education. Specifically, management technology can help school and district leaders make better decisions, run leaner organizations, and target funds to programs that help kids the most. This report finds that most school districts fail to use these tools to improve their outcomes and includes policy recommendations for how K-12 education can gain the same benefits from big data that many other sectors have.