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A first stage of analysis is to understand where the income comes from and what is actually covered by the school budget. In many countries, teachers’ salaries are determined and paid for centrally, and this information is unlikely to be in the school budget. However, other school staff (such as cooks, security staff, etc.) may be paid directly by the school. Other common costs for a school budget include learning and teaching materials, school meals, infrastructure development, examination fees, extra-curricula activities, etc.

In addition, school income will commonly come from a variety of sources. If there is a free primary education policy there should be some governmental transfers (either from local or national government); but this is likely to be complemented by parental contributions and fundraising initiatives.

The exact make-up of a school budget will vary greatly from country-to-country, and within countries. Additionally, there is great variety in the levels of power schools themselves have to set the budget. For example, in Kenya, under their Free Primary Education Policy, there are direct transfers of funds from central government to the school, based on the enrolment levels in school. Whereas in other countries all school expenditure may be set centrally.

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The Elimu Yetu Coalition in Kenya has been involved in budget tracking activities for about five years. The coalition defines budget tracking as: the process of public expenditure monitoring, scrutiny and follow-up to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of expenditure’.

The work began with research in the districts of Narok and Mwingi to understand where primary schools were getting their resources from, and the level of knowledge of district education budgets. Finding that parents were meeting recurrent costs, that they had no knowledge of the government budget, and that issues of transparency and accountability  were at the mercy of individual head teachers and SMCs, the coalition decided to take this work further, building the capacity of citizens to enable them to monitor and evaluate the budget.

The coalition developed four modules, looking at the four stages of budgeting. These tools were used with a range of stakeholders (district education officials, SMCs, parents, NGOs, CBOs, and school sponsors) to strengthen their understanding of the budget process, as well as their role in this process. The modules also included tools for tracking disbursement and utilisation of funds from national to school level. These modules have been developed into a training manual which is used by provincial teams across the country. The main impact of this work has been to build the relationship between the school and the parents at community level. Head teachers are now more accountable and the community representatives have been able to lobby for specific funding to help in school development projects. Links with the media have also been developed, and through this work and the community mobilisation, education has become prioritised in many of the regions.

In January 2003, a policy of free primary education was introduced across Kenya. With this policy came the idea of setting up school bank accounts. Money was transferred from the national government directly to the school to pay for all teaching and learning materials (teachers salaries are paid separately). This provided a new challenge for the schools, which now had to manage considerable budgets. Building on the earlier experience of budget tracking work, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) developed a capacity-building initiative to ensure that SMCs and the local community would be able to manage this budget.

The NCCK ran a three-day training workshop for two facilitators from each division. These facilitators were community workers or members of CBOs with a minimum of eight years education. They had to be interested in community work, well-respected in the community and possess good communication skills. The training covered the budgeting process as well as discussing the free education policies, and values and principles for budget tracking. The facilitators were then responsible for training SMCs in their area and for informal support to parents (sharing information on child rights and the free primary education policy), as well as school monitoring and support visits. By the end of 2004, 990 SMC members had participated in the training, and communities were actively involved in monitoring free primary education in their area.