Making per-pupil expenditures down to the school level public
Thanks to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states now must annually report for every public school and local educational agency the total per-pupil spending of federal, state and local money disaggregated by source of funds for the preceding fiscal year. This includes actual (not average) spending on personnel.
A moment of (early) truth: taking stock of school-by-school spending data
Nearly five years ago, a small but consequential provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) got stacked into a pile of new things states need to do. For the first time, states were required to make public per-student spending for every school in the country (versus the usual district and state per-pupil averages, which can mask big school-by-school spending differences). The hope was that the data would be a game changer in that it would prompt districts to re-examine how they spend dollars across schools, with more intention paid toward equity and improving education. But big questions and concerns emerged: Could states pull off the data task? Would the data be any good? Would it be useful and usable? Would it spark widespread political havoc?
Now, with the June 30, 2020, reporting deadline in the rear-view mirror, we offer first-cut answers to the early headliner—and newly emerging—questions.
Why is this such a big deal?
For years, public reporting centered on district and state per-pupil averages, which can mask big school-by-school spending differences. Now, education leaders, policymakers and the public can see what is spent on students in every school across the country. Making school-level financial data publicly accessible will make it much easier to investigate the relationship between spending and outcomes (something states have reported for years) and help drive improvements in educational productivity and equity.
What are the opportunities?
User-friendly data systems would allow school and district leaders to easily tap the information they need to leverage their dollars to do the most for students. But accounting for and reporting spending by school has been a big challenge. Edunomics Lab hosts the Financial Transparency Working Group (FiTWiG) to help states and districts navigate this work.
Explore our School Spending Data Hub
Our data hub provides a gateway to explore each state’s school-by-school spending data. Find out what you can learn from that state’s report card about per-pupil expenditures—and how to find information the report card may not provide.
Interstate Financial Reporting: IFR
Created by states, for states to meet the financial data reporting requirement under ESSA—and maximize the value of their efforts. IFR represents FiTWiG’s collective thinking on a set of key per-pupil expenditure measures that, if used, have common meaning across states. Following these voluntary, minimal IFR criteria can help states and districts ensure that their school-level data is understood and can be used to surface opportunities toward equity, productivity and innovation to benefit students.
Financial Transparency Working Group: FiTWiG
Nearly all but a handful of the country’s state education agencies and 20-plus local school districts jointly develop strategies to meet the federal requirement and build information systems to meet their own transparency goals and improve education outcomes.
This work has been possible through several key partnerships including Council of Chief State School Officers, State Support Network and Building State Capacity and Productivity Center. Meeting materials and related products are linked below by topic area.
To learn more about this working group contact Liz Ross via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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