Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 18
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
States Confront ESSA Mandate on Spending Transparency
By Daarel Burnette II
A tricky financial-transparency requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act has
cranked up tensions among state politicians,
school district administrators, and civil
rights activists over public understanding
of how districts divvy up their money among
ESSA requires districts to break out
school-level spending by December 2019-a
first-time federal requirement. It's a level of
detail unknown even to most district superintendents.
Various interest groups are split over
whether such items as transportation, technology, special education, and pre-K-some
of the biggest drivers of the rise in school
spending-should be categorized as regular school costs, or as extraordinary costs or
Civil rights activists, meanwhile, expect
that the reporting of school-level-spending
amounts will reveal to the public where districts' most-experienced and highest-paid
teachers work, if those data are presented in
a coherent and comparable way.
But state education departments are re-
OPENING THE BOOKS
Starting in December 2019, the
Every Student Succeeds Act requires
districts to publicly report per-pupil
spending by school, not just by
district. That school-by-school
information must include:
✔ Money spent on staff versus other
expenses, such as curriculum,
textbooks. and classroom supplies.
✔ What proportion of that spending
comes from federal, state, and local
✔ The socioeconomic picture of each
school's enrollment based on student
✔ Demographic breakdown of student
enrollment by racial, ethnic, and
other designations such as special
education and English-language
SOURCE: Every Student Succeeds Act
alizing that it's a daunting task to come up
with school-by-school data using districts'
sometimes-antiquated finance systems.
The debate has ramped up in recent
months as more and more district administrators and state politicians learn about
the requirements through their member associations and as state departments look to
start collecting the data this fall to meet the
deadline. Considering the complexities of the
requirement, the U.S. Department of Education last summer gave states a one-year
extension to comply.
Many Americans are already familiar with
average district per-pupil-spending costs,
and superintendents usually explain to their
board members and parents during budget
hearings how they plan to use that money
on salaries, curricula, and new learning
But the school-by-school spending figures
may fuel debates over teacher-seniority and
-placement policies, how much value lawmakers place on some children's education,
and whether principals are most effectively
using money to boost academic results.
State department officials in recent weeks
have attempted to quell superintendents'
anxieties through committee hearings, webinars, and communications campaigns.
They argue the data will bring to the public yet another level of transparency on how
school practitioners spend taxpayers' dollars.
Some state officials say the data could play
to their favor as legislators look to overhaul
school funding formulas.
Governors and legislatures in recent years
have accused districts of wasting money on
pet projects and central-office administrators' salaries, and they've called for more accountability of spending strategies.
Last month, New York Gov. Andrew
Cuomo, a Democrat, proposed that by next
year, the state's education commissioner and
budget and finance office should approve
school-level-spending amounts for a handful of districts, including New York City. The
governor has proposed to add more districts
in the future.
Superintendents Push Back
The request, which is currently being debated by the New York assembly, alarmed
superintendents' associations across the
"It's interposing officials in Albany for the
decision of local leaders and school board
members and superintendents and other
administrators, all of whom are closer to the
schools and students," said Robert Lowry, the
deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "We question
whether the state officials would even have
the expertise and the capacity to evaluate
spending levels between schools."
Dictating school-level-spending amounts
will sour district officials' attitudes toward
the ESSA reporting requirement similar to
the way teachers' attitudes toward standardized testing shifted after test scores began
to be used as part of teacher evaluations,
But Cuomo's proposal thrilled civil rights
activists and fiscal conservatives who have
long theorized that state and federal money
meant to equalize funding levels between
property-rich and property-poor districts is
18 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 28, 2018 | www.edweek.org
This data has the huge
potential to empower
The Education Trust
not targeted toward the most academically
struggling and poorest schools, but instead
toward the schools where parents' groups
hold political sway.
"This data has the huge potential to empower equity-minded advocates and practitioners," said Ary Amerikaner, the director
of P-12 resource equity for the Education
Trust, an advocacy group that pushes for
more school accountability. "If budgets are
our most meaningful value statement, we
have to date not been able to actually have a
conversation about which schools and which
students we are valuing within our districts
up until now."
Because the data could potentially cause
so much consternation, school board members, district administrators, teachers'
groups, and parents have turned their attention in recent months toward state departments as they decide how districts will
collect and present the data.
State departments in turn have corralled
large task forces to decide how to comply
with the law.
Illinois' department of education several
months ago began meeting with pre-K and
special education advocates and district superintendents to decide how to treat certain
Some school costs, such as pre-K centers,
building maintenance, and special education can make a school's costs look bloated,
leading to faulty conclusions about school
spending, said Robert Wolfe, Illinois' chief
Illinois ultimately decided to leave some
decisionmaking authority with district officials over how to split those costs.
"There are ramifications for each decision
point," Wolfe said. "We had to ask how does
it help make data-driven decisions within
The most vexing challenge in complying
with the financial-transparency requirement
One State's Dive Into K-12 Aid Figures
ner says the hard work will be worth it.
The state has been grappling with ways
Rhode Island spent an average of $16,000 to cut costs in some districts where student
to educate each of its students in 2016.
population has plummeted. Separately,
But depending on which school a stu- charter school advocates and public school
dent attends in this tiny state, spending officials have bickered over whether they're
per pupil could be as little as $9,000, or as getting their fair share of state funds.
much as $45,000, according to an analysis
"We are public officials, and this adds anby the Education Week Research Center of other level of transparency for the public to
see what we do on a daily basis," he said.
That level of spending detail-and the
scrutiny it invites from the public and poli- Technical Hurdles
cymakers-is unusual nationwide, even as
other states gird for new school-by-school
State leaders are in the process of pairreporting mandates under the Every Stu- ing testing data with finance data to show
dent Succeeds Act.
how, or whether, spending patterns produce
ESSA requires all states to begin report- higher results for students.
ing that data as of December 2019. Rhode
Still, challenges lie ahead.
Island has been doing so for eight years,
Today, Rhode Island's school-levelone of at least five states to do so, and it spending data reside on the back end of
provides a case study of the challenges in the state department's website, organized
collecting the data and what they could ul- in spreadsheets that make it difficult for
laymen to analyze trends and make comThe state's mandate began in 2006, when parisons.
the legislature upended its funding formula
The Education Week Research Center
and a legislator successfully proposed that used a series of calculations provided by the
it break out school-level spending.
department to aggregate school-level costs
The state's finance system today has a and then map them out so that they're eascategory for almost every school cost. While ily comparable. The analysis shows that
most state finance systems put all teacher spending varies widely among schools, desalaries in one category, for example, Rhode pending on size, location, and student-body
Island's provides a separate category for demographics, which may include special
schools' reading coaches, as well as English, education or pre-K students who may be
math, and other types of teachers.
require extra services.
After the legislature required the breakThe highest-spending, Drum Rock School,
out of school-level spending, state leaders a small school in Warwick that houses an
and local officials gathered for months to early-childhood-learning center, spends
determine what counts as school costs and $45,000 per student.
what should count as administrative costs.
The lowest-spending school, Bernon
State education Commissioner Ken Wag- Heights, spends just $9,000 per student.
By Daarel Burnette II
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 28, 2018
Education Week - February 28, 2018
News in Brief
Computer Science for All: Can Schools Make It Happen?
Pressure to Graduate Failing Students Is Felt Nationwide
U.K. Curriculum Import Becoming Increasingly Popular
Missouri Tackles Challenge of Dyslexia Screening, Services
Lost Sense of School As a Safe Place
Grief and Rage Drive Students To Demand Changes to Gun Laws
A Florida City Forever Changed
Lockdown Drills Prompt Fear, Stress After Parkland
A Long Journey Ahead Seen For Survivors of Shooting
On Social Media, Teens Witness, Grieve, Organize
Legal Issues Loom for District In Shooting’s Wake
One State’s Dive Into K-12 Aid Figures
States Confront ESSA Mandate on Spending Transparency
Several Ed. Dept. Offices Target of Reorganization
Trump Seeks Ed. Dept. Budget Cuts
The Editors: What Should Betsy DeVos Prioritize?
Margaret Spellings: Higher Education
Marilyn Anderson Rhames: Teacher Quality
Karla Phillips: Personalization
Maddie Fennell: Leadership by Example
Shaun M. Dougherty: Career and Tech Ed
Mike Tenbusch : The ‘Have Nots’
Rafiq R. Kalam Id-Din II: Racial-Equity Agenda
Erin McGrath: Lack of Choice
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Jerrod Wheeler: Impact Aid Is a Lifeline for Military-Connected Kids
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Education Week - February 28, 2018
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 2
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 3
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 5
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Computer Science for All: Can Schools Make It Happen?
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Pressure to Graduate Failing Students Is Felt Nationwide
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - U.K. Curriculum Import Becoming Increasingly Popular
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Missouri Tackles Challenge of Dyslexia Screening, Services
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Lost Sense of School As a Safe Place
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Grief and Rage Drive Students To Demand Changes to Gun Laws
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - A Florida City Forever Changed
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 13
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Lockdown Drills Prompt Fear, Stress After Parkland
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - A Long Journey Ahead Seen For Survivors of Shooting
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Legal Issues Loom for District In Shooting’s Wake
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 17
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - States Confront ESSA Mandate on Spending Transparency
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Several Ed. Dept. Offices Target of Reorganization
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Trump Seeks Ed. Dept. Budget Cuts
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 21
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Maddie Fennell: Leadership by Example
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Erin McGrath: Lack of Choice
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 25
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 27
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Jerrod Wheeler: Impact Aid Is a Lifeline for Military-Connected Kids
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW4