Understanding School Budget Jargon


Most school districts, counties and cities develop a new budget every year detailing how taxpayer dollars will be spent. Cities, counties and towns usually determine how much money school districts have to manage their yearly operations. School districts use the money that city/county/town governments give them and determine where each portion of that money is spent.

Understanding a school district’s budget planning process can be difficult due to the jargon used to explain otherwise normal processes. Below are terms that you will likely hear during upcoming budget discussions in your local school district.


A school district’s budget is how much money the city/county government allocated to the district for the following year. School districts will often lobby city/county governments to maintain or increase their funding in a competition with other government entities under the city’s jurisdiction. Districts will grow their programs with larger budgets and shrink their programs with smaller budgets.


A deficit is when a school district has spent more money or plans to spend more money than is allocated to it. School Districts will often lobby city/county governments to expand their budget to avoid a deficit. A deficit can also occur by a district not properly preparing how to spend its funding.


A grant is outside funding that a school district can receive that is not part of the budget allocated by the city. Grants can take many forms. Outside organizations or individuals can provide extra funding to give a school district extra money to run overall operations or to fund smaller projects within the district, such as a football stadium or club activity. Grants can also come from other government entities, such as the federal government.

School Bond

A bond acts as a loan that school districts will take to help fund their projects, which often include buying textbooks, repairing buildings, or maintaining more staff. School districts will often hold elections where voters will choose whether or not to raise taxes for a school district to afford a new project. If voters choose in the district’s favor, a financial institution such as a bank will provide a loan to the school district for the project. The raised taxes will then pay off the loan and interest over time.


An allotment is money or resources that a school district designates for specific purposes, such as salaries, professional development, or projects. School Districts will take their annual budget and divide it into allotments that will fund the district’s operations and other activities for the next school year.

Equity (First Definition)

The term equity can have two meanings in a school district’s budget. In a budget, equity often refers to the overall value of the school district’s property, such as buildings or land. Equity is often determined by subtracting the costs of any liabilities from the base value of the property.

Equity (Second Definition)

The term equity can have two meanings in a school district’s budget. In a school district’s budget, equity can refer to the ideological belief that resources should be used in a way that eliminates disparities and results in equal outcomes. Most school funding formulas take into account socioeconomic status, special education status and English Language Learner status. In recent years, equity has also come to include identity markers like race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender. School Districts often create Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) departments and allocate large sums of money to address what they consider to be inequities based on these identity markers.  


ESSER stands for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. This fund was originally created as part of the CARES Act and received more funding with later acts that were passed. ESSER provided school districts across the country with billions of dollars of grants from the federal government to help combat the disadvantages COVID-19 may bring to students’ learning. The funding was meant to allow school districts to upgrade technology and air quality systems, provide students with the tools to continue learning, and protect the safety of students during the pandemic. Some districts used this funding to pay consultants, increase the number of staff, and adopt DEI initiatives.


The CARES Act stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. It served as a $2.2 trillion stimulus package during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and was signed into law on March 27, 2020. This act created the first ESSER funding that school districts received. The act designated $30.75 billion for education. Of this total, $13.2 billion was allocated for ESSER.


The CRRSAA stands for the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. It was signed into law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 on December 27, 2020. This act provided funding for what was known as ESSER II. The act authorized an additional $81.88 billion for education. Of this total, $54.3 billion was allocated for ESSER II.


The ARP stands for the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. It served as a $1.9 trillion stimulus package toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and was signed into law on March 11, 2023. This act provided funding for what was known as ARP ESSER. The act allocated $122 billion for ARP ESSER.


A consultant is an outside individual or group that school districts hire to advise the district on how to handle certain situations, groups of people, or problems that may arise in the future. In recent years, districts have been known to use ESSER funding to pay outside consultants to advise district staff on DEI initiatives, which often lead to these districts adopting policies in favor of racial equity and gender ideology. Consultants will often provide teachers with professional development and lesson plans centered around these issues. Well-known consultants include Panorama Education, GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, Gender Spectrum, and Advocates for Youth. Some districts have paid consultants hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in recent years.

Professional Development

Professional development is training provided to teachers, counselors, leadership, and other district staff throughout the year. This training can include teaching staff how to use new technology, computer programs, and systems that the district is adopting. However, this training often includes providing teachers and other staff with lessons promoting racial equity and gender ideology. Some professional development has included telling staff to keep the gender identity of students hidden from parents.

Curriculum Development

Curriculum development is when a school district allocates resources to change or reshape the curriculum taught to students. These changes can be as small as updating a history curriculum to include textbooks with more modern historical events. However, school districts will often change their curriculum to include so-called “equitable” objectives that involve teaching students lessons that promote racial equity, gender ideology, and LGBTQ issues. This has become more prominent in curriculum development in recent years.

Student Support Services

Student Support services are services provided to students who may be struggling academically, behaviorally, or emotionally at school. These services can include providing additional educational opportunities and counseling for students. In recent years, student support services have been known to guide students into adopting different gender identities or sexual orientations without parental knowledge.

Educational Technology

Educational technology is technology that uses computer hardware and software to facilitate learning for students. This can include new computers for staff and students, new educational programs to help students learn, and programs for teachers to maintain information for their classrooms. School districts will often include educational technology in their budget to ensure their schools are up to date.

Important Link:

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary & Secondary Education