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Districts Find a Challenge in ESSA’s Financial Transparency Rules for Improving Equity Across Schools

A small turnout greeted the presenters at Thursday’s conference session Leveraging ESSA’s Financial Transparency Rules to Improve Equity.

“Having the phrase financial, transparency and rules is not a big pull or draw in getting folks to come in,” joked Jonathan Travers, a partner of Education Resource Strategies, a national non-profit in Watertown, Mass., that works with district, school and state leaders to transform how they use resources to create a strategic school system.

Travers explained the importance of the session can lead to understanding this involves more than just measuring spending per school. Financial transparency can lead to positive, productive outcomes.

Two districts — Wake County, N.C., and Montgomery County, Md. — were introduced by two district leaders: Brad McMillen, assistant superintendent for data and accountability of Wake County, N.C., and Dan Gordon, senior legal policy adviser with the Washington, D.C.-based Education Counsel, who substituted for the panelist from the Montgomery County Public Schools.

The panelists shared their insights and lessons from a working group and how it is informing their approach to resource equity in their districts and states.

According to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, state and district report cards must annually include per-pupil expenditures from the preceding fiscal year of federal, state and local funds, separated by source of funds, and include actual personnel and non-personnel expenditures.

McMillen explained how Wake County has worked through the process.

“As we got into that, it became clear when we started looking at our data. The technical part was a solving problem,” said McMillen. “It was a matter of series of making decisions about if this nickel should go into this bucket or this bucket.”

McMillen said it would be by far the hardest thing to explain to parents why a certain amount of money is going to one school and not another or why graduation rates aren’t that high in a particular school.

Travers said it isn’t only funding equity that schools worry about. Resource equity is vital. Many factors influence the quality of education, and the distribution of key educational resources won’t show up in spending per pupil.

Travers said data collection takes a substantial amount of time for staff members and could be extremely helpful if done well – or a huge waste of time if done badly.

He added: “We can be cash rich, but resource poor.”

(Victoria Leuang, a senior journalism major at Middle Tennessee State University, is an intern with Conference Daily Online).

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