While billions of dollars are invested annually in the nation’s K-12 public education system, state education departments don’t effectively track spending, Education Week reports.
The lack of data on spending makes it difficult to track and analyze transactions made by district officials, who use a combination of federal, state and local funds.
The holes in data, which can often be outdated by several years, are making it difficult for school funding advocates to push for reform in K-12 spending if they aren't sure of where and how the money is being spent. And costs for tracking systems could be hefty, with one proposal in Mississippi estimated at an extra $11 million that advocates say is a necessary investment.
Debates over K-12 funding models have risen in most states in recent years.
Last year, Washington’s state Supreme Court ended a decade-long case that brought into question the implementation of a new school funding plan after lower courts found in 2012 that the state had violated its constitution by underfunding K-12 schools.
Even more recently, Kansas’ Supreme Court decided last month that the state is finally spending an adequate amount of funds toward its public schools. The lawsuit, originally filed in 2010, was decided after the court unanimously signed off on a law enacted in April that would increase the state education budget by $90 million a year. The state has been through multiple other lawsuits in the past decade, all regarding school funding.
Recent debates over property tax-based school funding models — nearly half of all property tax revenue is used for public elementary and secondary education — that allocate higher funds to already affluent areas while neglecting poorer urban districts have inspired interest in implementing potential reforms in K-12 spending.
However, bridging that gap and overhauling current funding models means analyzing where, and how effectively, states are currently spending existing education funds.
This data could be collected by implementing data collection and budgeting systems in districts. But implementing different systems from different vendors, which may employ different metrics, across districts could prevent state leaders from identifying important spending patterns necessary to make informed funding decisions. Some districts could also see a state-level effort to implement uniform state data collection systems as an infringement on local control.