Building a PD Plan: Budget

According to the Center for Public Education, school districts spend an estimated two to five percent of their budgets on professional development. The caveat is that many districts aren't aware of how they're spending that money. They may only be accounting for the total cost of workshops and conferences, without considering the cost of hiring substitute teachers when primary educators are out of the classroom. They may not be factoring in the time teachers spend collaborating with one another during department meetings. In fact, according to the study, "the largest cost of effective professional development is actually teachers' time." So, how does this translate?

When it comes to your professional development program, you can't just throw money at it --  regardless of how big your budget is. It takes careful consideration and planning to create a viable, long-term program.

“Even high quality professional development must be directly relevant to the needs of teachers and genuinely improve teaching and learning. And low-quality professional development, frankly, feels like detention.” Randi Weingarten, AFT President

Let's assume you've worked through steps 1 & 2 of this series: you've identified your professional development goals, and outlined resources and modes of delivery that you feel would be the best fit for your district's teachers. A budget creates the final parameter on your program. How much can you spend, and where should you spend it?

Engineering your budget

It's easy to think of a budget as a limitation on possibility. For the sake of this exercise, adopt an engineering mindset, and consider your budget as a creative solution to a challenge. Are you a visual learner? Create a mind-map. Prefer bouncing ideas off of another person? Find another trusted educator to confide in.

Start by identifying what activities you and your teachers consider professional development. Revisit responses you collected when you identified your PD goals. While you may have only considered workshops and conferences, some teachers might think of department meetings as a sort of informal PD opportunity. Create a comprehensive list.

Identify how much money is currently being spent on all of these activities (even those you don't necessarily consider professional development). Don't forget to take into account the time spent. Time = money when it comes to evaluating a budget.


Circle those areas you feel were created without intention, or that were potentially unsuccessful. These areas represent a loss on your ROI. For any district, the ROI is all about student learning. Did this time and money translate to an improvement for students? Keep in mind that what you might consider successful or unsuccessful may have been viewed differently by your teachers. Consult with other educators and prepare for honest feedback.

You've got an overall sense of how much your district spent on PD in one year. Can you afford to spend more this year, or do you need to cut back? Could a restructuring change the outcome? What unsuccessful strategies from last year can you revisit and improve?

Take a look at the resources you researched in step 2. Which resources did you identify as most conducive to meeting your PD goals? What are the associated costs (including teacher time)? Are there alternative solutions that could save money, while achieving the same outcomes? Do these programs align with the CPE's 5 Principles of Effective PD? Pick one or two resources to be the "star" of your PD program, and work from there.

Remember that professional development is a process. It will never be perfect for every educator. What one person finds useful, another may not. You've done your best to get as much input as possible. Remain flexible and open --  you can always restructure again next year (or even next marking period).

"High-quality professional development must be an ongoing process of improvement that allows teachers not only to master new content but also to integrate this knowledge and skill into their classrooms. Evaluation, done well, can be a part of that continuous learning and feedback loop. And, as we have seen around the world in nations with high-performing education systems, teachers thrive in a collaborative culture that gives them the time, tools and trust to drive their professional learning." Randi Weingarten, AFT President

Ways to save

  • If you've decided on a conference or workshop this year, check to see if there is an early-bird special and try to book in advance, or inquire about group rates.
  • Opt for versatile experiences. Pick opportunities that can apply and appeal to a a large number of teachers, without being too generalized. While a group of ESL teachers is attending a reading intervention technology workshop, history teachers might be attending a seminar on teaching geography with Google Earth.
  • How can you deliver content in-person and online? Oftentimes, online experiences are less expensive, because they require less resources. Check out Blended-Learning PD: Time, Accessibility & Evaluation for more information.

Check out some of our budgeting articles for more information:

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