As principals, you are focused on myriad issues that impact the daily function of your school. 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 affect questions that you field about your school’s resources and its 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). 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 usually only available at the district level, not broken out by school. Since schools within districts can vary greatly in student populations, needs, and resources, this data 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 financial resources are allocated. 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 educational community. As you know, school districts receive funding from a mixture of sources—mostly state and local, with federal funds making up the final 10 percent or so 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 will have an enormous opportunity to look at distribution of funds to meet the needs of all their 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 consider the unique needs of the students each school serves.
This data will enable comparisons between the total spending on each school and the student outcomes at that school to see how well a school is using the resources to best serve its students. This information can be a powerful tool for principals to leverage funding for their students. Furthermore, this data can help you explore which kinds of spending work best for various student populations and in different schooling contexts—for example, in 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 annual report cards. States that have already published PPE data include Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The next round of states that are expected to publish their data includes Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Once PPE information is public, principals should be prepared to answer parents’ questions—and will be empowered to question district leaders about how expenses are allocated among 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 large population of students with special needs? Do they operate magnet or other special programs? Is there an expense that makes that school unique?
- How many state and local dollars are allocated within a district to schools with more students in poverty? More students of color? Students with specific characteristics such as homelessness, disability, or English learner status?
- 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?
NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the Collaborative for Student Success have developed a set of documents intended to support your conversations regarding school spending with district leaders and your community. We think that these documents will be helpful tools as we learn how to use the spending data for useful and constructive dialogue.
- Principal PPE Primer: Describes the nuts and bolts of what is required by law, what it means for school leaders, and how we think district leaders can be engaged using the data.
- Five Action Steps for Principals: Recommends concrete next steps for principals before and after this data is released in your state.
- Principal PPE FAQ: Covers common questions and answers we’ve heard about per-pupil expenditure data.
- School Spending Quadrant Questions: Describes an analysis that some organizations have already used to compare school spending and student outcomes and suggests questions that principals could ask their teams or district leadership based on which “quadrant” their school occupies (low spending and high achieving, high spending and high achieving, etc.).
In addition, NASSP and other education advocates are available as resources to help understand what this data will mean, address questions you might receive from parents, and help you leverage the data to improve your school.
- For an example of spending data by school, visit The Education Trust—New York.
- To view spending data by district, read this NPR article on why America’s schools have a money problem.
- For information on the financial transparency requirement, visit Edunomics Lab.
- For more information on state funding formulas, visit EdBuild.
 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 FY 2020 to report 2018–19 spending.