Finding Professional Development on a Shoestring Budget

Working with a tight school budget for professional development? The deadline for schools to allocate all spending for the next year is quickly approaching. This year, economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to affect the education system, and districts may be revising budgets that affect professional development (PD). Fortunately, through wise spending, you can still deliver effective PD on a shoestring budget.
The right strategy is key, and there are two roads to take to lead to success:

  • Reducing unnecessary PD costs, and
  • Finding solutions that don’t sacrifice impact.

In this post, we’ll break down both of these initiatives.

How to Maximize School Budget for Professional Development

1. Reduce Unnecessary PD Costs

There are lots of line items associated with PD…more than you may even realize. While PD is an important investment that leads to benefits such as improved teacher performance and better student outcomes, there’s some spending that can be cut without reducing effectiveness. Especially so if you transition from in-person workshops to online training.


Time is the hidden cost of teacher training. Paying teachers stipends for professional development days, or using up classroom hours, can be much more costly than the price of planning and procuring training. In fact, up to 55% of total professional development spending is allocated to freeing up teacher time. For a school district of 50,000 students, this has been shown to cost up to $20 million!

Here’s an example: The graphic below shows that what appears to be a school budget for professional development of around $12,000 is actually over $65,000 because of this often-overlooked cost. They say time is money, and in this case, it’s a lot of it.

Hidden Cost of Teacher Training Infographic

While paying for the time of your teachers in staff, you may also end up paying for the time of substitute teachers if their training involves being away from the classroom.

To save funds, rethink your teacher training format. You may be surprised to find that what you thought required an all-day training can actually be accomplished in an hour or less. That drastic decrease in time doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality (more on that later), and with strategic scheduling, it could feasibly fit into the regular school day without reducing teachers’ time with students.

Unnecessary Fees

All-day workshops and in-person training costs and fees can add up compared to online training. It’s not just the trainer’s time you need to consider. Travel fees, printed materials, providing food and snacks…these expenses can quickly add up. Yet all could be avoided by switching to a virtual format for providing PD.

The shift from in-person to online may seem impersonal, but online trainings can be highly interactive and engaging. Think less PowerPoint slides and video watching, and more participatory, immersive learning experiences.

Invisible Costs

Then there are the invisible costs of teacher training—the line items not seen on your school budget for professional development, but are being hidden in other areas of your overall spending. Items such as:

  • Personnel salaries and time to support and evaluate PD
  • Time dedicated to supplies and equipment
  • Facilities expenditure

It’s important to fully account for all costs associated with PD so you can help trim unnecessary expenses.

2. Find solutions that don’t sacrifice impact

Minimizing your school budget for professional development isn’t the only goal. You want to select PD that is cost-effective, not just “low cost.” Seek quality, on-budget PD that is both effective and measurable.

Spend Wisely By Assessing Effectiveness

The criteria you use to assess the effectiveness of any potential PD will be specific to your needs and desired outcomes. However, there are some guidelines to help you navigate your search. For example, you likely want to look for evidence-based training solutions that have been empirically assessed to show effectiveness of learning and behavior change.

Criteria for Selecting Mental Health Training to Empower Teachers

Our free whitepaper, Criteria for Selecting Mental Health Training for K-12 School Personnel, describes key factors that have been proven to help achieve positive outcomes, so you can be confident you’re investing your school budget for professional development wisely.

Make It Easy on Yourself to Track Participation and Measure Outcomes

It’s important for principals and district leaders to know whether the PD produced the intended outcomes. Can you show that teacher behavior is changing? Will this improve student performance, outcomes, and school climate? Can you justify the cost of what you invested in the PD you selected?

Assessing long-term student outcomes tied to PD can take some time. In the short-term, you can assess effectiveness through comparing survey results collected before PD and once PD has been completed. This enables you to have a clear idea of goals and intended outcomes based on what is being measured, as well as to establish a baseline for your school and district. Over time, you can measure progress. It also provides an opportunity for teachers to give feedback, which can help you make improvements, and has the benefit of obtaining greater buy-in from staff.

This data is not only important to assess the value of your PD and decide whether you want to build it in the budget for the future. You can also save money this way by ensuring that this tracking is done with technology. Paper surveys, for example, require hours of manual input and to glean any valuable takeaways from the data, more hours would be put into data analysis. Eliminating these requirements with PD solutions that can securely store survey data and summarize that data across thousands of teachers and staff will save administrators precious time and money.

Another cost-savings of PD with automated tracking and data tools is that it allows administrators to measure compliance. These days many states have requirements that teachers and staff must complete certain trainings. Manually tracking whether thousands of employees have completed training can be daunting. Again, a cost-effective PD solution should be able to provide insights into completion in order to allow districts to achieve universal training needs as soon as possible.

PD Can Be a Win-Win

Educators are a school’s greatest asset. Teachers—more than curriculum, standards, resources, programs, or any other component—have the biggest impact on student achievement. Investing in teachers is investing in students, making PD arguably the most important district initiative.

PD comes at a cost—which can be worth it, but at the end of the day budgets need to be considered. But with the right strategies and solutions, you can achieve high-quality PD that doesn’t break the bank.

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