It’s not every day that an issue that impacts my work at my Dallas elementary school makes it into the pages of the New York Times. Yet this opinion piece spoke directly and persuasively to the need for per-pupil spending data to be available and understandable to the public in order to forward conversations about equity in education.
Dallas has been a leader in making school-level spending data available for our community, so over the last two years, we’ve built experience doing so. I know that for many of my peers in schools across the country, that has not been the case. That’s changing this school year. To be compliant with federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act, each state must publish per-pupil expenditures—school by school—on their report cards. The hope is that this will lead to more thoughtful conversations about equity and resource allocation by addressing discrepancies in spending by school within districts. When paired with outcome data, there is also an opportunity to think about whether resources are going to the students that are furthest behind.
As states release these data, elementary and secondary principals alike may start to get more questions from families and community advocates. We know that sometimes schools get more or less money than the school down the street because they serve different students. I may get more funds from my home district of Dallas because there are more low-income students in my building than the one two blocks away, for example. Our parents probably haven’t thought much about that, however, and the topic can be complicated to explain.
We can use per-pupil spending data to distribute resources more equitably. Dallas ISD’s Accelerating Campus Excellence program is designed to attract high-performing teachers to buildings that serve mostly low-income students, and we use per-pupil spending data to make sure the program is working. Spending will go up at buildings that can attract these teachers, and the data helps the district hold itself accountable. I hope that positive examples like this will lead to more states to answer the call from the New York Times piece.
Last summer I participated among a cohort of principals, and we learned more about the release of these data and potential implications. My colleagues and I, convened by the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, created materials that we hope will help principals answer questions about spending from our parents and community members. We also participated in the Certificate in Education Finance program at Georgetown University as part of the program.
The reaction will look different across states and within communities, but we should be ready to lead conversations about school spending. I encourage you to take a look at the materials our cohort created. We would also like to know what’s missing or what else could be helpful. There is no other group of people more qualified than us to help communities navigate through this complex issue.
Oscar Aponte is the principal of Maple Lawn Elementary School in the Dallas Independent School District.