Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools, Second Edition

Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools, Second Edition How to Survive and Thrive in Tight Times

Nathan Levenson
paper, 160 Pages
Pub. Date: June 2022
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-741-1
Price: $32.00

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In this second edition of Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools, Nathan Levenson proposes fresh strategies for more efficient, equitable resource allocation within school districts.


Nathan Levenson is a rare education leader who not only talks the talk but walks the walk, who not only thinks big ideas but also sweats the small stuff. In this essential book, he connects the dots between great budgets and great outcomes for kids, reminding us that more money is nice to have, but money well spent can change the world. — Michael J. Petrilli, president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

An interesting read for any school leader, but it speaks directly to the decision makers in school budgeting…Levenson encourages districts to embrace an experimentation mindset and challenges leaders to identify specialized roles and design work that allows professionals to spend more time addressing student needs. Sometimes, looking at budgeting with a fresh set of eyes opens the district to possibilities. School Administrator

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About the Author

Nathan Levenson is the president of New Solution K12, an education consulting firm. Levenson began his career in the private sector, starting as a strategic planning management consultant, owner of a midsized manufacturer of highly engineered machinery, and a turnaround consultant helping struggling firms. A passion for public education led to a career switch that included six years as a school board member; assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Harvard, Massachusetts; and superintendent of the Arlington, Massachusetts, public schools. For over a decade since he has traveled the country and the world helping school systems build smarter budgets.

Levenson was hired as a change agent in Arlington during a turbulent time in a divided community. He oversaw all academic and operational aspects of a district with nine schools and a budget of over $50 million. Levenson’s leadership led to wide-scale changes in academic programs despite tight resources by accelerating the move to standards-based education and teacher-developed common formative assessments in reading, math, writing, and social studies.

He helped create and champion an intensive reading program that reduced the number of students reading below grade level by two-thirds and revamped special education services, leading to a 24 percent improvement in academic achievement in English and math. The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy identified Arlington High as a best-practice school for reducing the special education achievement gap by more than that of nearly all other public schools in the state (a 66 percent reduction in the achievement gap). Much of this effort focused on cost-effectively improving multi-tiered systems of support and special education services. None of this would have been possible without substantial shifts in spending.

Putting the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” into action, the Arlington Public Schools built partnerships with local nonprofits to provide—at little or no cost—psychiatric counselors, social workers, family counseling, a diversion program, drug and alcohol counseling, and a community-wide coalition to help keep students safe from substance abuse and stress.

As a consultant and thought leader, Levenson assists school districts across the country in raising achievement despite growing student needs and tight resources. His work in special education is on the leading edge of thinking and practice, and his support of districts with strategic planning, resource allocation, cost-effective teaching and learning strategies, and human capital development is also at the forefront of the nation’s school reform efforts.

He has overseen a number of national and statewide studies on cost-effective education, including an analysis of special education costs and outcomes from fourteen hundred districts nationally and a study of best practices and related staffing for struggling students in all districts in Massachusetts. One such study was profiled in a Wall Street Journal editorial and led to a private discussion of his work with education secretary Arne Duncan and a number of follow-up discussions with his senior team. Levenson has been an adviser to state departments of education, has contributed to think tanks, and is a regular speaker on the topic of improving outcomes despite limited resources.

His work has been profiled in the District Management Journal and in the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy’s best practices in special education report, and chronicled in Stretching the School Dollar, published by the Harvard Education Press. He has published research for the American Enterprise Institute, Center for American Progress, the Fordham Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Levenson received a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School and is a graduate of the Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy.

Table of Contents


Other books in School Finance

Other books in School Finance

Other books in School Finance

A Better Way to Budget

Nathan Levenson