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What's the “return on investment” in your school system budget?

Explore options that balance investments and savings with a focus on the real bottom line—student performance.

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What is Budget Hold'em for Districts?

Budget Hold’em for Districts is more than a game – it’s an interactive exploration of how school system leaders can make the most of every dollar to accelerate student learning. Hold’em sparks conversation about budget tradeoffs, transformational instruction, and student impact. It helps leaders envision their budget as a reflection of their priorities.

District leadership teams can play Budget Hold'em to encourage new thinking as part of an annual budgeting process or strategic planning process. We have found that the game format encourages participants to step outside of their day-to-day decision-making to look at their choices in a new and more integrated way. It is also useful with school boards, unions, parent groups, advocacy groups, aspiring leaders, and more. Play on your own to get a sense of how it works.

How to Play?
  • Take the perspective of a school system leader, like a Chief Financial Officer, Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, or Chief of Schools. Hold'em works best when you play in a group representing different departments, including finance and academics.
  • Keep in mind your school system's most important needs and priorities.
  • In the game, you'll receive "deals" of cards describing potential investments and savings. Choose to "play" cards that fit your priorities, increase student achievement, and help meet a budget target. Be realistic, but also open-minded and bold.
  • In the final round, you'll find more information on the resource strategies you chose.
Why play Hold’em?

School systems can't afford to just cut - or to layer new money onto old strategies. If we want to improve student achievement, education leaders must think differently about how to balance reductions and investments. This means working across departmental "silos" to craft a budget that reflects the district's key priorities, takes into account the "return on investment" of new strategies ( in terms of student achievement) and thoughtfully pairs strategies to have the greatest impact.

This tool uses real district data and scenarios based on ERS' work from over 15 years in districts nationwide. It has been played by over 10,000 people in person and online, and continues to be used by district leadership teams, board members, teachers, and more.