Date of Award

Fall 1-10-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Kristina Brezicha, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kevin Fortner, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Robert Hendrick, Ph.D.


The decentralization of budget decisions from the central office to the schoolhouse has emerged as a system-changing strategy to give principals the flexibility to allocate their resources to areas most likely to improve educational outcomes (Snow & Williamson, 2015). Budget decentralization is viewed as a promising reform strategy, especially for low-performing schools that are eager to apply new approaches to meet their students’ needs (Fermanich, Odden, & Archibald, 2000). As more districts have announced a transition to decentralized budget decision-making, scholars have observed that schools have generally stayed with long-standing budget practices and have not embraced autonomy (Bjork & Blase, 2009; Honig & Rainey, 2012). The theoretical framework of distributed leadership provides insight into why school leaders might exercise, or might not exercise, this newfound budget authority. The focus of this dissertation was a large urban/suburban school district in Georgia, which has made substantial investments in creating school-level budget autonomy. This study sought to understand whether school leaders exercise budget flexibility when a district has built an environment supportive of decentralization by enacting key distributed leadership provisions. Ninety-four traditional public schools were included in this study. The budget allocation from the central office and the submitted school budget were compared. This study set out to analyze four main budget groupings: (a) teachers, (b) paraprofessionals, (c) support personnel, and (d) non personnel. This study found that the behavior of principals did significantly differ among elementary, middle, and high schools. While the majority of budget changes were not statistically significant, middle school principals did significantly reduce their teacher allocation, and elementary principals did significantly reduce their non personnel spending. Additionally, low-performing schools exercised this autonomy at greater rates than their peers in high performing schools. Finally, the amount of time operating in a decentralized budget environment did not lead to a statistically significant increase in the exercise of budget autonomy. This insight into the degree to which educational leaders exercise budget autonomy can inform the decentralization efforts that are currently underway in district offices across the country.

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