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The Bottom Line Transparency is a Must with Taxpayers Money

Education Week recently posed a pivotal question: “Where, exactly, do those billions of dollars taxpayers annually spend for schools go?” Those in charge of the funds sometimes don’t even know.  For example, in Mississippi the state education department “miscalculated” the exact dollar amount it would take to contribute a “$1,500 bonus” to teachers. Lawmakers with inquiries about the mistake were directed to the antiquated 20-year-old student-information system which the Mississippi Governor, Phil Bryant, referred to as being “held up by a Band-Aid”.

As we’ve reported on before, taxpayers need to know where revenues from their taxes are being spent—especially the annual per student education spending.

Instead, antiquated systems track billions of dollars of educational spending with little transparency from lawmakers creating funding policies.

To overcome this obstacle, a very helpful resource to improve transparency is the Statewide Workload/Staffing/Finance report from the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP), which is part of the Office of Financial Management here in Washington State. Though intended for Washington State, the resource should be expanded to other states. Users will find that its four major sections clarify most significant questions one could have about education spending:

The first section, Workload/Staffing/Finance, breaks down spending per student four sub-sections: total state general fund revenues, total federal general fund revenues, local taxes, and other revenues.

The next section, Expenditures per Full-Time Enrollment, compares each district to other comparable districts and to the Statewide general fund expenditures. In this section you can see the amount of money spent per FTE enrollment based on “teaching, teaching support, food services, pupil transportation, utilities, unit administration and central administration”.

The third section is Expenditures and Revenues, ranging from the school year of 2010-11 to the present, highlighting in a visual graph based on “Activity Group by School Year.” This graph explains where the revenues have increased and which group it has gone to from the year 2010 to 2019.

The last section, Average Salaries for Full-Time Teachers, displays a graph for base salary and additional salary that can be viewed statewide and by district, showing the increases in teacher pay overtime.

This resource is easy to navigate, includes up-to-date and accurate data, and it addresses what  Education Week describes in the title of the aforementioned article as “Gaping Holes in How States Track K-12 Spending.” I believe the question now is, are lawmakers willing to navigate these tools themselves and be transparent with their respective communities?

Bailey Takacs

Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs serves as program coordinator at Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education. With a passion and drive for reforming education, Bailey’s experience includes managing campaigns for elected officials as well administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.