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Education Department To Require Detailed Spending Data

The U.S. Education Department is working to require state education agencies and local school districts to be more transparent about the money they spend.

In a Federal Register posting filed September 27, 2022, the department’s National Center on Educational Statistics (NCES) is seeking comments on a proposal that would require state agencies to submit reports detailing expenditures from federal, state, and local funding sources for every school in 17 categories.

The federal education agency began gathering the detailed spending information on a voluntary basis in 2014, and some 35 states have agreed to submit data to the School-Level Finance Survey for the current year. Under the department’s plan announced in the Federal Register, states would be required to participate in the survey next year.

The move comes as unprecedented sums of federal money are flowing into school districts and charter organizations to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But the survey goes beyond the federal aid to include spending from state and local sources. And the new reporting requirements would continue after the Covid-relief money is expended.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for years,” Stephen Q. Cornman, NCES’s senior survey director for financial surveys, told FutureEd. “[It will allow us to] look at schools with high-poverty levels and those low-poverty levels and see the difference in spending, and what money is actually spent on, including who’s getting the most experienced teachers.”

[Read More: What Congressional Funding Means for K-12 Education]

In 2015, when Congress reauthorized the federal law governing elementary and secondary schools as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it included a requirement that state and local education agencies report per-pupil expenditures for every district and every school. Data from 49 states is now captured in the National Education Resource Database on Schools or NERD$, a joint effort initiative of the Edunomics Lab and the Massive Data Institute at Georgetown University.

But that data provide only a single number for how much is spent per-pupil in each school or district, rather than breaking down the information into a wide range of categories, including salaries, support services and food costs as the School-Level Finance Survey does.

In the Federal Register, NCES proposes to add the school-level survey to the Civil Rights Data Collection conducted by the department’s Office for Civil Rights. Though the collection occurs every two years, the spending survey would continue to be conducted annually, Cornman said. The release of the data typically lags a year after collection.

The department would give new states a few years to ramp up their data collection capacity. Next year, when states report fiscal year 2022 data—for school year 2021-22—NCES would accept the more general spending information they already gather to meet the ESSA requirement. By fiscal year 2023, all states would be expected to break down spending in seven categories:

  • Instruction
  • Student support services
  • Instructional staff support
  • School administration
  • Teacher salaries
  • Instructional aide salaries
  • Books and periodicals

By fiscal year 2025, the filings must include the full set of indicators. They include:

Instructional Programs

  • Instruction
  • Support services, pupils
  • Support services, instructional staff
  • Support services, general administration
  • Support services, school administration
  • Support services, operation and maintenance of plant
  • Support services, student transportation
  • Business/central/other support services

Non-instructional Programs

  • Food service
  • Enterprise operations
  • Districtwide current expenditures
  • Other

Exhibits and Special Items

  • Teacher salaries
  • Instructional aide salaries
  • Improvement of instruction
  • Library and media services
  • Books and periodicals
  • Technology-related supplies and purchased services
  • Technology-related hardware
  • Technology-related software

The Federal Register filing allows 60 days for submitting comments on the proposal. Those interested in commenting can submit electronically through the Federal eRulingmaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov using the docket number: ED-2022-SCC-0120.