Though federal law requires it, states’ rollout of data detailing how much districts spend on schools, has been clumsy and overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. Data has been incomplete, hard to comprehend, buried on hard-to-navigate state department pages or, in some cases, entirely unavailable.
So U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has spent much of her tenure advocating for states to upend the way they distribute their K-12 dollars, did a runaround this week and took a crack at highlighting the mounds of data herself.
“This new web tool clearly displays per pupil student funding at the building level so parents can see how their money is being spent on students,” DeVos said in a news release touting the Education Department’s new “Per Pupil Expenditure Transparency” interactive map. “This is the level of transparency that states and districts should aspire to and that parents deserve.
The map remains far from complete, however—data from more than half the states are missing, with notes advising the user to “check the State website or check back here later.” But the tool is one of the first attempts by any organization to compile every state’s school spending data on one web page.
The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to annually publish how much districts spend on each one of their schools, a level of detail unknown to even many superintendents.
Fiscal conservatives have long theorized that more transparency around K-12 spending would lead to more-efficient and equitable spending. They saw the buried ESSA reporting requirement as the key to unlocking the answer to what districts do after they receive millions of dollars from federal and state governments.
Indeed, the now-available data reveals inequities within districts. But it may be a while before that information gets put to use. Many local reporters and school funding advocates have been busy responding to the coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered schools and caused massive budget deficits that will impact thousands of low-income districts across the country.