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Financial Accounting for Local and State School Systems: 2009 Edition
NCES 2009-325
June 2009

Chapter 3: Budgeting

Budgeting is a major element of financial data activity. Budgeting is the process of allocating finite resources to the prioritized needs of an organization. In most cases, for a governmental entity the budget represents the legal authority to spend money. Adoption of a budget in the public sector implies that a set of decisions has been made by the governing board and administrators that culminates in matching a government's resources with the entity's needs. As such, the budget is a product of the planning process.

The budget also provides an important tool for the control and evaluation of resources and the uses of resources. Using the accounting system to enact the will of the governing body, administrators are able to execute and control activities that have been authorized by the budget and to evaluate financial performance on the basis of comparisons between budgeted and actual operations. Thus, the budget is implicitly linked to financial accountability and relates directly to the financial reporting objectives established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

The planning and control functions inherent to any public entity, including schools, underscore the importance of sound budgeting practices for the following reasons:

  • The type, quantity, and quality of goods and services provided by government often are not subject to the market forces of supply and demand. Thus, enacting and adhering to the budget establishes restrictions in the absence of a competitive market.

  • Goods and services provided by government are generally considered critical to the public interest and welfare.

  • The scope and diversity of operations in a governmental entity make comprehensive financial planning essential for good decisionmaking.

  • The financial planning process is critical to the expression of citizen preferences and is the avenue for reaching consensus among citizens, members of the governing board, and staff on the future direction of the governmental organization's operations.

The link between financial planning and budget preparation gives the budget document a unique role in governmental organizations. Budgets in the public arena are often considered the definitive policy document because an adopted budget represents the financial plan used by a government to achieve its goals and objectives. When a unit of government legally adopts a financial plan, the budget has secured the approval of the majority of the governing board and reflects

  • public choices about which goods and services the unit of government will or will not provide;

  • the prioritization of activities in which the unit of government will be involved;

  • the relative influence of various participants and interest groups in the budget development process; and

  • the governmental organization's plan for acquiring and using resources.

In an education environment, budgeting is an invaluable tool for both planning and evaluation. Budgeting provides a vehicle for translating educational goals and programs into financial resource plans—that is, developing an instructional plan to meet student performance goals should be directly linked to determining budgetary allocations. The link between instructional goals and financial planning is critical to effective budgeting and enhances the evaluation of budgetary and educational accountability.

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