As principals, you are focused on myriad issues that impact the function of your school on a daily basis; are school buses arriving on time, did the cafeteria receive its delivery, are your students safe. Despite all that you attend to, it’s natural to face some scrutiny from parents, administrators, and community members about how your school is doing. Starting next year, a significant change in available data about school funding could impact questions that you field about your school’s resources, and salaries for teachers, staff, and administrators.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are now required to report their spending of local, state, and federal dollars by school and calculate a “per-pupil expenditure” (PPE). This is significant because per-pupil cost must include, among other expenses, the actual salaries and benefits of teachers, administrators, and other school staff—including you. Up until this point, funding data was only available at the district level, but was not broken out by school. Since schools within districts can vary greatly in student populations, needs, and resources, this will provide significant, localized insights.
Though principals are not traditionally responsible for allocating school budgets, you may receive questions from parents and community members about how resources are spent. Moreover, you may want to query others on behalf of your school, and you can use PPE information to ask poignant questions of your own to district leaders that can help improve your school. As you know, school districts receive funding from a mixture of mostly state and local finances, with federal funds making up the final 10% of budgets. Local school boards determine how much is allocated and spent both within their district and for each school.
With new PPE data, the budgetary allocation decisions of local school boards will be put under a microscope. District leaders have an enormous opportunity with this data and fresh look at distribution of funds to meet the needs of all its students in a fair and equitable way. District leaders should be able to articulate a clear and transparent approach to allocating resources to each school in its district; and these approaches should take into account the unique needs of the students each school serves.
This data will enable comparisons of the total spending on each school with student outcomes at those schools to see how well each school is able to use the resources it has to best serve its students. This can be a powerful tool for principals to leverage funding to get the most for students. Furthermore, this can help you explore what kinds of spending work best with different student populations and in different schooling contexts—say, an urban school with a high number of at-risk students or students with limited English proficiency.
All states must report their PPE data for the 2018–19 school year by June 2020 and are required to include this information on the state and district’s annual report card. Thus far, the states that have already published include Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The next round of states that are expected to publish include Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Once PPE information is public, principals will want to be prepared to answer parents’ questions—and empowered to question district leaders over how expenses are allocated between schools. The following are some questions you can ask your district leader(s):
- Why do schools in the same district have significant differences in per-pupil expenditures? Do they have a high population of students with special needs? Do they operate magnet or other special programs? Is there an expense that makes that school unique?
- How much does the district allocate state and localdollars to schools with more students in poverty? More students of color? Students with specific characteristics such as homelessness, disability, or English learner status? Note that federal funds are intended to be layered on top of an equitable allocation of state and local funds.
- How are school boards ensuring that dollars are being used in the most effective manner?
- How much of a school’s spending is attributed to central office costs?
It can be daunting to decipher detailed information like per-pupil expenditure and what it means for you and your role leading a school. However, NASSP and other education advocates are available as resources to help understand what this data will mean, what questions you might receive from parents, and how you can leverage it to improve your school.
- For an example of spending data by school, visit https://newyork.edtrust.org/ny-school-funding/
- To view spending data by district, visit www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-money-problem
- For information on the financial transparency requirement, visit Edunomics Lab: https://edunomicslab.org/
For more information on state funding formulas, visit http://funded.edbuild.org/
 Congress repealed the regulations mandating a deadline to release the information. Based upon minimal guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, and statutory language in ESSA, our assumption is that states have until the end of FY2020 to report 2018–19 spending.