Budget tracking usually refers to monitoring expenditure. It can be looked at vertically (i.e. how does money flow through a system from national to district to local level), or horizontally (how are disbursements made at one point in the system, are they regular and spent as planned?). For either type of budget tracking, the focus is on whether the money
is spent as detailed in the plan. If not, why not? Where does it go? Budget tracking can also link to an evaluation of the impact of a particular budget, looking at whether expenditure had the intended impact, or focusing on the impact of different groups of the population. For example, were people in rural areas impacted in the same way as those in urban areas? How were boys and girls impacted? It is also essential to think through how you intend to use this analysis. Is it to build a relationship with the government? To raise public awareness? To mobilise communities on their rights to education? To expose corruption?
Tracking through the system: With increased decentralisation of education budgets, there are more and more countries where financial transfers are made from national level to the district, local or school level to give some level of local power and decision-making over school expenditure. However, this money does not always reach the school. Tracking through the system involves looking at where the money goes, and can be used to expose corruption or financial mismanagement. For the tracking process to work well it generally needs to involve actors at three levels.
At national level, engaging directly with government and policy makers, ensuring accurate up-to-date information about the levels of funding that should be flowing through the system, as well as information about when disbursements are made, and where the money is sent.
This can be followed up at district level, engaging with the district education office and asking whether the money arrived, how much arrived, how much is allocated to each school, and exploring whether this is consistent with the information gathered at national level.
At school level a similar process can take place; looking at whether the money has arrived, how much, and whether this is consistent with the information gathered at district level.
This work will depend on whether there is an open information policy, and you can access the relevant data. If this is not possible, a first stage will be to lobby the government to make budget information transparent and available.
Also important in this process is to consider whether the money arrives at the school in a timely fashion, at an appropriate point in the school year. Unfortunately, in many cases schools do not receive their funding until part way through the academic year.
Tracking disbursements: another form of tracking is focused directly on school expenditure (although similar processes can be used at other levels). This involves monitoring school expenditure against the annual plans, and ensuring that money is spent as planned, or that proper systems are followed to reallocate funding. This will involve a series of different activities (depending on who you are, and the levels of access and influence you have on the budget management process).
In many ways budget tracking is about building relationships, so that information is continually shared. A first stage could be to ensure that the school budget is publicly available (see Uganda example). This could be through displaying the budget in a public place and/or through holding general meetings to share the budget details. This might involve developing a system of regular reporting, for example quarterly meetings sharing budget expenditure. You may also decide it is important to access the school bank accounts to ensure that what is being reported on reflects what is actually happening. At these meetings there should be space for discussion, to challenge any unexpected expenditure and to discuss any changes to the original plan.
In addition to open meetings, a range of tracking tools could be used to ensure good record keeping and accountability. Using social audit processes (see example from India ) can be a helpful way of tracking expenditure against plans – and also ensuring issues such as value for money are discussed. Such processes often lead into wider discussions such as procurement policies and pricing.
Budget tracking should not be limited to actual expenditure. It is also important to consider the impact of the budget. For example, is quality education achieved through this budget? What extra expenditure might be needed? How does the budget impact on different groups? For this work you may collect statistical information or use personal testimonies of teachers, students and other education stakeholders. Your analysis can then be used for campaigning and lobbying work at the local or national level.
Involvement in budget tracking should also contribute to strengthening the relationship between parents and the school, enhancing a feeling of community ownership and increasing accountability links in the local area. You may decide to track other educational inputs, such as teachers, textbooks, and school meals, which may not be included in the school budget but are crucial ingredients for education.
See the following examples: