Every Student Succeeds Act

States Still Stumped by ESSA’s Required Breakout of Per-Pupil Spending

By Daarel Burnette II — June 29, 2017 2 min read
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States and districts will likely be grateful for the reprieve they’ve just gotten on the deadline for breaking out per-pupil spending on state report cards, a tricky, little-known part of the Every Student Succeeds Act

Figuring out per-pupil spending at a school level is exceedingly difficult, state and district budget directors say, since costs vary widely and it’s difficult to separate school costs from central office costs. Some district leaders fear state officials will look to more formalize districts’ budgetmaking processes and say that will erode local rights to spend as school board members feel appropriate. (Katie Hagan, a Research Associate at Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, who has conducted training for states to comply with the law, said the law allows for local spending flexibilities).

But civil rights activists have long complained that majority white and wealthier schools are spending the bulk of district funds on teachers, curriculum and textbooks. Because there’s no school-by-school breakdown, it’s difficult for parents to advocate for more resources.

Liz King, the director of education policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights told my colleague Alyson Klein at Politics K-12 that waiting for state departments could take forever.

It’s something Education Week wrote about in April of this year as 2017-18 district budgets were being drafted and state departments were finalizing their ESSA plans.

The federal Education Department doesn’t require states to detail in their accountability plans how they’ll comply with this portion of the law. Indeed, six of the 17 state departments that have submitted their plans so far opted out of saying anything about financial transparency in their plans, according to an analysis by Katie Hagan, a Research Associate at Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.

Five states recognized that the requirement existed but didn’t say exactly how they’ll comply.

Of the states that did mention how they’ll comply with the financial transparency portion of the law, Illinois, Tennessee, and Vermont told the department they wouldn’t be able to comply with the requirement this fall. (Illinois and Tennessee said it would be able to do it in the fall of 2018, and Vermont said implementing a new school finance system will take two years).

Louisiana and Massachusetts already collect this information and said they’ll expand those efforts to include school-by-school spending on district report cards.

And Connecticut said it will consolidate several different school spending accounts “to ensure coordination among education agencies at the local, state, and federal levels is more efficient and streamlined.”

North Dakota mentions in its plan that the breakout of school-by-school spending will ensure equity between student groups.

“In many places, schools serving the most vulnerable students get less funding,” North Dakota state department officials wrote. “These gaps happen between districts and within districts. The intent of ESEA has always been to provide more dollars for historically disadvantaged students and this is maintained through the reauthorization. ESSA requires per pupil reporting on actual school level spending practices as well as equity measures to ensure students are not disproportionately represented.”

Video: ESSA Explained in 3 Minutes

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.