Developing a Budget

Overview: How should you estimate your program’s budget?

When implemented effectively, tutoring programs can have a significant impact on student outcomes, making these programs well worth the investment of time and funding. It is important for your district to fully understand the costs of running an effective tutoring program and determine how that program will be funded. Costs estimates for high-impact tutoring programs range considerably from $1,000 to over $3,000 per pupil.

Your program’s overall budget will depend on several factors; however, districts should likely expect to spend somewhere between $1,200 to $2,500 dollars per student[1]. If your district plans to serve 1,000 students, for example, anticipate an annual budget of at least $1.2 million.

# of Students served × $1,200 = $ lower estimate; # of Students served × $2,500 = $ higher estimate

What factors determine your program’s budget?

Model Dimensions

Model dimensions influence costs, whether you are growing your own tutoring program or partnering with a provider (whose fee will depend on their model). These three dimensions are most likely to impact cost:

  • Student-Tutor Ratio: Programs with higher student-tutor ratios (more students per tutor) may cost less than programs with lower ratios depending on the cost of additional training and coaching required for tutors to effectively tutor higher numbers of students.
  • Dosage: Higher dosage programs cost more than lower dosage programs.
  • Tutor Type: More experienced tutors can command higher wages than less experienced ones. If you are growing your own program, see the Grow Your Own Supplement to help determine total tutor costs.
  • Supervision: Programs with more experienced supervisors and/or more intense supervision will cost more.
  • Delivery Mode: Virtual tutoring programs can cost less than in-person tutoring programs, particularly in high cost of living areas (because tutors can be recruited from lower cost of living areas). Some programs have used adaptive software to decrease the cost per student, as a tutor can work with more students as students rotate between the software and the tutor, increasing the tutor’s capacity.

Before simply choosing the least expensive option, consider the return on your investment. High-dosage in-person tutoring programs with low student-tutor ratios and well-trained and coached tutors will likely have the greatest impact. A range of programs, however, including virtual programs, can also be effective in some contexts.

Collective Bargaining Agreements

The terms laid out in the collective bargaining agreement will determine costs if you use existing staff to support the day-to-day implementation of your program. In particular, the role teachers play in your program (e.g., oversight, coaching, leading tutoring sessions, etc.) and the amount of time that you expect them to work will affect the additional stipends or per-session pay for which you will need to budget.

Note: Some agreements explicitly note that teachers and other school staff cannot take on responsibilities above and beyond their work contract. If this is the case for your district, you will need someone else familiar with your context to run the day-to-day implementation of your program on site. Consider hiring central district staff who could work at the school site to support implementation, as there may be fewer restrictions on their additional work.

Program Scale

Starting with a small-scale pilot program in a handful of schools can help you better understand how to scale up an effective program while remaining cost-efficient.

Tutoring Approach

Your tutoring approach (partnering with a provider or growing your own program) will determine the number and types of items in your budget. When you partner with a provider, most line items will be bundled into their overall fee. However, as indicated in the table below, you will still need to budget for additional costs. When growing your own program, you will need to break down your budget into component parts. In a hybrid approach, you will need to select the relevant items from each column in the accompanying table to determine and build your budget.

Note: Tutoring providers may not pass on 100% of the cost to district partners. Some tutoring providers, especially nonprofit providers, have their costs subsidized by government grants (e.g., AmeriCorps funding), philanthropy, or volunteers. This does not mean that working with a provider will always be cheaper, however, as providers must also cover additional overhead costs for their own central management structure.

What are the typical cost categories for each tutoring approach?

Your tutoring approach will impact the types of expenses your tutoring program will incur. To estimate the costs of your proposed tutoring program, estimate costs in the following categories depending on your chosen approach:

Typical Costs Incurred
Growing Your Own Program Partnering with a Provider
Tutor costs:
  • Tutor recruitment costs
  • Background checks
  • Tutor wages (and benefits, if eligible)
  • Employer taxes and workers compensation

See more information on calculating costs for tutors.

Additional Human Capital Costs:

  • Compensation for district teachers/staff who have additional responsibilities related to the tutoring program (usually per-session pay)
  • Salary and benefits for any additional central staff
  • Stipends and/or or salary and benefits for staff who coach and supervise tutors

Central Costs:

  • Training (transport, meals, materials, space)
  • General supplies (markers, whiteboards, etc.)
  • Curriculum and assessments
  • Technology devices for tutors and students
  • Blended software licenses (if applicable)
  • Data collection, evaluation, and improvement
  • Fees paid directly to external tutoring provider
  • Compensation for district teachers/staff who have additional responsibilities related to the tutoring partnership (usually per-session pay)
  • Salary and benefits for any additional hired central staff (depending on program scale)
  • Technology devices for students
  • General supplies (markers, whiteboards, etc.)
  • Data collection and sharing

How do you estimate tutor costs?

Your cost for tutors will depend on the tutors’ pay (which depends on their experience) and the number of hours they will work.

How will your tutors be paid?

If your tutors will be paid, you must determine how much to pay them, and what form this payment will take. Less experienced tutors may be content with college credit, semesterly stipends, or low hourly wages; however, experienced tutors from diverse backgrounds will be difficult to recruit unless you offer competitive compensation at their level of education and experience.

How much education and experience will your tutors have?

The most important determinant of how much your tutors will need to be paid is their level of education and experience. Attempting to underpay your tutors relative to their qualifications may yield lower-quality candidates who cannot find better-paying offers elsewhere and limit the diversity of your talent pool. Use these pay rates as a baseline, with higher pay for tutors with high-need skills (e.g., bilingualism) or a closer connection to the community they serve:

  • Novice tutors (college students/recent grads):   $15-$20/hour ($15-$20 per pupil per hour at 1:1 ratio)
  • Experienced tutors (recent college grads/TAs):  $20-$30/hour ($7-$10 per pupil per hour at 3:1 ratio)
  • Master tutors (veteran teachers/veteran tutors): $40-$60/hour ($13-$20 per pupil per hour at 3:1 ratio)

Note: Novice tutors may seem cheaper ($15-$20 per pupil per hour), but they can be the most expensive option, because they typically only have the skill to work with one pupil at a time without extensive support. In other words, the number of students a tutor can manage effectively with more experience and training increases faster than their per-pupil pay rate. A master tutor working with three pupils at a time at $50 per hour only costs $16.67 per pupil per hour: cheaper per pupil than the median hourly wage for a novice tutor working with one pupil at a time.

How many hours will each tutor work?

Particularly if you plan to pay tutors an hourly wage, the number of hours they will work each week is a critical factor in estimating their pay. Unlike the calculation for how many tutors you need, this calculation relies on the total number of hours tutors spend on all forms of work for your program, not just how much time they spend facilitating sessions. Training, support, prep time, and paperwork all need to be factored into the calculation of total work time.

A significant decision is whether your tutors will be part-time or full-time employees. Full-time tutors can be more expensive for the same number of hours, since you must also fund health and maybe retirement benefits on top of their effective hourly pay. Adding and removing full-time employees is also often more difficult than offering more or fewer hours to part-time employees as a program’s needs fluctuate. However, full-time tutors may be more invested in their work and easier to retain in their roles and may take leadership roles in your program, potentially offsetting some of their higher cost.

How can you reduce costs while minimizing impact on student outcomes?

If your estimated costs exceed the funding available for the program, you will need to reduce costs. Below are options to reduce costs arranged in order from least impact to most impact on student outcomes:

1. Secure more funding.

Because it requires no compromises to your core program model, accessing more funding is the best option if you can manage it. Securing more funding can be difficult in practice, but it is the simplest way to solve the problem of insufficient resources. (Read more about Funding Sources here.) In the meantime, evaluate your other options through the lens of whether they will enhance your funding prospects. For each approach below, ask yourself: Will this change help me make the case that the program deserves more funding to expand its footprint? Or will this change dilute what made the program worthwhile in the first place?

2. Reduce your footprint: Provide tutoring to fewer students (for now).

To reduce your costs without compromising your core program model, simply reduce your program’s footprint. There are two ways to do this:

  • Run a pilot program in a smaller number of schools, and use its success to justify more funding. Provide tutoring to every student who needs it, but only offer it at a select few schools where it is most likely to succeed. This strategy not only reduces the number of tutors you need, but also cuts down significantly on administrative overhead by eliminating supervisors/coordinators/managers (who cost more than tutors anyway). Read more about Conducting Pilot Programs here, and about Identifying Schools here.
  • Narrow your eligibility criteria to reduce the pool of students who qualify for tutoring. To get the most “bang for your buck,” focus on a small subset of students who will get the greatest benefit from tutoring. This means prioritizing those with the greatest academic struggles while also deprioritizing those who already receive other forms of individual academic support. Read more about Selecting Students here.

These two strategies are not mutually exclusive: if you can afford far fewer tutors than you really need, you could both offer tutoring at fewer schools and narrow your eligibility criteria for students within those schools. Whatever you choose, your goal is to start small, demonstrate impact, and parlay that impact into more funding.

3. Increase your student-tutor ratio: Push the limits of your tutors’ experience level.

To significantly reduce costs without compromising on tutor pay or tutoring dosage and if your model is not at the maximum recommended number of students per tutor, consider increasing your student-tutor ratio taking into account your tutors’ experience levels. Your tutors may be more capable than you realize, particularly if you can find cost-effective ways to provide them with additional training and support. Providing above-average pay at a given experience level can also be a cost-effective way to attract higher-quality tutors who can remain effective even when working with more students simultaneously.

4. Reduce tutor costs: Lower wages, reduce benefits, or consider volunteer tutors or digital tutoring programs.

Offering below-market hourly pay is risky.

  • It can make recruitment more challenging, leading to compromises on tutor diversity and qualifications.
  • It can cost you more in the long run because of the additional training, supervision, and support that less-qualified tutors (i.e., those who cannot find higher pay elsewhere) will require.
  • It can exacerbate tutor burnout, leading to lower performance and higher rates of turnover, which then lowers the quality of tutoring for your students.

Other ways to reduce employee costs may work better. Instead of cutting wages, consider these options:

  • Shift the cost of paying tutor wages onto other institutions; for example, hire college students with federal work study funding or AmeriCorps service members whose pay is subsidized
  • Reduce your expenses from providing employee benefits by hiring current teachers as tutors and pay them non-pensionable stipends for extra hours
  • Supplement well-paid, well-trained tutors with volunteers
  • Supplement well-paid, well-trained tutors with high-quality, integrated, digital tutoring programs

5. Reduce your dosage: Provide fewer hours of tutoring per student.

If you originally planned to provide more than three 30-60 minute sessions of tutoring per student per week, you have exhausted the above options, and you still need more tutors than you can afford, consider reducing the amount of tutoring each student receives each week, but do not reduce dosage below the research-backed amount of three 30-60 minute sessions per week.

[1] These numbers come from research into program costs by Matthew Kraft, Associate Professor of Education at Brown University.