Phoenix Schools Implement District-Wide Participatory Budgeting- Phoenix, AZ

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Project at a Glance

  • Issue Area Community vision and values, Education and youth
  • Engagement Approaches Participatory budgeting
Project Description

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Phoenix Schools Implement District-Wide Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting is used around the world to empower regular citizens to identify, discuss, and make decisions about public spending projects. In Phoenix this process has been used by individual schools to actively engage students in the financial decision-making process, where students have historically not had much influence. In 2017, Phoenix’s Union High School District implemented this concept on a larger scale, introducing a district-wide opportunity for participatory budgeting.


  • Enable students to learn “democracy by doing”
  • Build critical thinking, communication and leadership skills
  • Fund projects that matter to the students and school community

Project Summary:
In Phoenix, AZ, five high schools partnered with city officials, local nonprofits and community organizers to implement a pilot participatory budgeting program. The program was designed to be a student-driven process to create and decide on the budget for school improvement projects. Students spent the first six months brainstorming potential projects, with each high school handling this phase differently. Some schools formed student committees in classrooms or in the student government to conceptualize projects. Other schools utilized an online platform to collect ideas.

After brainstorming the students developed formalized plans. These proposals were then voted on. The voting period lasted a week. During this period, students had the opportunity to use real voting machines provided by the local election commission. Once the proposals were selected, the school district allocated the budget to fund the winning school improvement projects.

Engagement Strategies:

  • Gave students an active role in shaping the school’s budgetary decisions
  • Used face-to-face and online communication to facilitate plan development
  • Mirrored real-life voting process to prepare students for active civic life in adulthood


  • 5 high schools took part in the pilot program process.
  • 3,854 students (~84%) turned out to vote on the proposals.
  • Around $55,000 was allocated in district funds to implement the winning projects. These include filtered water stations, cafeteria renovations, and a Digital Music Performance & Recording Club.
  • In the 2019-2020 school year, the program is expected to reach 30,000 students across the state of Arizona, including all 20 high schools in the Phoenix Union High School District.

Additional Resources
In partnership with the Participatory Budgeting Project:

Local Contact:
Madison Rock
Program Coordinator, Civic Health Initiatives
Center for the Future of Arizona
[email protected]

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