- The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is requiring school districts, for the first time, to break out school-level funding by December 2019, a requirement that is already causing stress for district administrators and financial personnel, state lawmakers, and civil rights activists, Education Week reports.
- While the new requirement may be beneficial in the long run, it may reveal real or perceived disparities in funding among schools, which may be completely justifiable based on special needs classifications and other factors, but may be hard to explain to parents, civil rights advocates, and equity-minded advocates.
- There are also technical issues to sort out such as how data should be classified, how reports should be presented, the limits of current financial software, and whether all this data will be comparable across the state and nation.
The new ESSA financial requirements include reporting money spent in schools on staff compared with other expenses, the proportionate levels of federal, state, and local funding at each school, a socioeconomic breakdown of student poverty levels, and a breakdown of student enrollment at each school by racial, ethnic, special education, and English learner demographics. Though these requirements are still almost two years away, school districts need to be looking now at financial software needs. They also need to consider the data reporting requirements as they plan school budgets, construction spending and assignment of experienced teachers for the coming year, as these will be scrutinized.
School administrators will need to be prepared for possible criticism when parents and advocates see the disparities in school spending. First, district leaders need to make sure the spending is truly as equitable as possible and fix any inequities that exist. Secondly, school leaders will need to justify apparent inequities. Some differences in school spending levels will vary based on the grade level, percentage of students with special needs and other factors. But parents, the media and the public will want answers as to why those differences exist.
There are resources that can help with planning and communicating the issues. Rhode Island and Tennessee have examples of how they are handling the issue and The School Superintendent’s Association offers a helpful document that answers some of the more pressing questions. Edvance Research has also prepared “ESSA’s Financial Transparency Reporting Requirement: Where to Start.” More resources are sure to come available as the deadline approaches.