By now, nearly everyone has heard of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as federal education policy. The single biggest change as a result of ESSA is that more authority is delegated to states, rather than the federal government. In addition to providing an opportunity for closer collaboration between local districts and the state, it also means it’s important that local school districts stay informed so they can be equal partners in this effort.
While states and districts will work together to determine exactly how to implement ESSA, two elements will be part of every state’s plan: more transparency and greater accountability. The intent is to empower parents and the public to become better educated about their local district’s performance and how it compares to other districts in the state. For the first time, districts will be required to report school-level spending data using actual expenditures. The actual per pupil spending for each school will be part of every district’s annual report card and will be made available on the district website.
How will districts accurately report school-level spending on their report cards?
It’s no secret that school districts organize their financial data in unique ways, often using complex hierarchies. Some districts apportion spending to individual school locations; some don’t. The data is usually managed using older software. The financial reports often use indecipherable numerical codes to indicate intended use, school locations, or funding sources (or all three), and none of it is user-friendly.
What can school districts can do to prepare?
It will still take work. Complying with the law will likely require changes to the way that your school district organizes and reports financial data, which affects both data systems and financial processes. But know that modern software and technology can make this shift to location-based accounting and user-friendly reporting much easier.
Finding the right partner is critical. Resist the instinct to try doing something new and different using the same old ways. With the right partner, districts can lean into the new era of financial transparency and accountability that ESSA brings. It represents an opportunity to educate parents and your community about how your district is using resources and why. If the public is better informed about school spending and can see its benefits, it is more likely to be supportive of your agenda.
How can Allovue help?
As education finance experts, it’s our job to stay ahead of the trend. We’ve spent years developing innovative financial management and budget technology so that school districts can do financial analysis and reporting more efficiently. Complying with ESSA will require finding a reliable partner that understands how school districts organize their accounts and can offer the technology necessary to produce accurate, user-friendly financial data reports.
For more information about becoming ESSA-ready, visit www.essaready.com or join us for one of our upcoming webinars on ESSA-ready finances.
About the Author
Chris Rinkus is a Senior District Partner with Allovue. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Student Enrollment & School Funding for the District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, DC. He redesigned the district’s $500 million school budget planning process, including implementation of a pioneering local funding weight for at-risk students. Chris holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University.