The desire for more transparency at the school level is a major theme of the Every Student Succeeds Act, including the financial transparency requirement which will have a more direct impact on schools. For the first time ever, the law requires states to “include actual per-pupil spending by school on state, district, and school report cards. Expenditures must be reported by funding source (federal, state, and local), and must include actual personnel salaries, not district or state averages.”
While many organizations have issued recommendations and models on the design of state accountability systems under ESSA, fewer resources on the funding transparency requirement of ESSA are available. Below are six member-recommended resources for advocates who are working to increase funding transparency at the school level:
Colorado: Examples of School Funding Transparency
Colorado was the first state to report on school-level spending, similar to ESSA requirements. PIE Network members Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children Colorado were part of the coalition which supported the bill before it became law and have served as valuable resources to advocates in other states working on similar legislation. Multiple advocates working on funding transparency recommend reviewing the America Succeeds report, Pulling Back the Curtain: How Colorado’s Transparency Law Sheds New Light on School Funding. The report includes a highly relevant section on how other states can emulate Colorado’s transparency law and what it took to get the bill passed.
Data Quality Campaign: Making Data Work for Students
The Data Quality Campaign produced a report on how to make data work for students in the Every Student Succeeds Act. One of their suggestions is to use the ESSA finance transparency requirement to clarify how education dollars are spent. Additionally, the Data Quality Campaign produced a report on how to use financial data to support student success. Both reports are chock-full of information and policy ideas for state leaders.
The Learning Policy Institute: Advancing Resource Equity
Equity-focused advocates can find a full breakdown of the transparency requirements and opportunities found in ESSA in this report. The report features specific suggestions on how states can use law to advance resource equity, including state report cards and taking advantage of incentives for equitable funding approaches.
Education Resource Strategies: Three Step Action Plan
ERS produced a simple-to-follow action plan for advocates who are working on the ESSA financial reporting requirement. ERS suggests advocates:
- Work toward a rigorous and accurate method for calculating school-level per-pupil spending;
- Understand school-level spending differences by incorporating schools’ contexts; and
- Track resources beyond dollars.
TXSmartSchools.Org: Interactive Data Visualization
Originally a part of the Financial Allocation Study for Texas, the Apples2Apples interactive tool was launched by Susan Combs while she served as the Texas Comptroller. She designed the tool to help school districts, parents, and taxpayers sift through the diverse educational landscape in Texas and identify schools and districts worthy of emulating. Users can compare Texas schools by their academic progress and spending, showing which schools are producing results while being cost-effective. This tool is an example of what a transparent and user-friendly state system could look like.
National Organizations Focused on School Finance
There are also several national organizations that focus specifically on school finance research and advocacy. Take a look at the websites to see if they might be helpful for you.
If you are interested in connecting with any of these resources or know of any additional resources for the financial reporting requirement of ESSA, please reach out.