States are finally starting to report school spending amounts as the Every Student Succeeds Act requires. It’s one of the most difficult pieces of the law to comply with and has gotten fierce pushback from district officials who complained that breaking out school spending amounts would only cause more paperwork and unnecessary friction between school board members, administrators, and parents.
The Every Student Succeeds Act is adding a new dimension to school finance transparency by requiring districts to report to the public school-by-school spending numbers. Most districts report average overall per-pupil spending, but civil rights advocates have long complained that those numbers mask how districts take their funding and then divvy up spending between schools.
Because that spending process is often responsive to demands from school board members, principals, parents and administrators, the process can be skewed—for example, money meant for poor students can end up being spent on wealthy students whose parents hold more political clout in districts. And students of color, who are often clustered at just a handful of schools within districts, can be left out of the process.
According to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center of school-level spending, Rhode Island spent in 2015-16 school year an average of $16,000 to educate each of its students in the 2015-16 school year. But depending on which school a student attends, spending per pupil could be as little as $9,000, or as much as $45,000.
In order to meet ESSA’s requirement that they calculate and report how much gets spent in each school, state and local officials have had to separate out overhead and classroom costs, an arduous, months-long process. Several states had to purchase new school finance software or rejigger existing school finance software in order to figure out new categories of spending.
According to an analysis by Edunomics, a school finance think tank at Georgetown University, at least 14 states now have published school-by-school spending amounts.
Using this data, state lawmakers in New York and Georgia already have used the school spending amounts as a tool to scrutinize how districts spend a growing pot of state funds. That process has been politically contentious.
States are required to report school spending amounts to the public by December this year.
Here are the states reporting that data so far and links to where you can find school spending numbers.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.