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School-level spending reports start next school year

School-level spending reports start next school year

Regents highlight need to explain spending differences, under new requirement

School districts will be required to track school-level spending beginning next school year, with the first public reports due to state education officials in December 2019.

The nationwide reporting requirement comes as the federal Every Student Succeeds Act starts to take hold in schools and districts across the country.

While the financial data won't be reported publicly for at least another 20 months, the data will be the result of decisions districts are making in board meetings in the coming weeks. School boards will approve budgets for next year in April, asking for voter approval in May.

Those budgets will take effect in classrooms and schools in July, supporting students programs and services for the 2018-2019 school year. The school-level spending actually conducted will then be reported to state officials in December 2019 and be released publicly. 

That more detailed public financial data will then shape the debate around future spending decisions in districts and schools across the state.

The reporting requirement was discussed Monday at a state Board of Regents meeting in Albany. Districts would first report per-pupil school-level spending to the state Education Department in December 2019, under the department’s expected timeline.

“You are going to see much more of the actual amount of money spent in each school,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said on Monday. “Determination of the funding is a local decision; this provides transparency about those decisions being made locally.”

Elia also warned district leaders and school boards to consider their school-level funding allocations during their current budget planning, “because it's going to be public."

Before the new requirement, districts were only required to budget and publicly report districtwide spending. But advocates and critics have argued district spending perpetuates school-by-school inequities. Under the change, voters will eventually get to see how much individual schools received.

In a statement released Sunday, Robert Mujica, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director, said it was important to be able to analyze differences between schools and that “there can be no budget resolution” without addressing that issue.

Cuomo, in his executive budget proposal, went a step further than the federal mandate, requiring districts in large cities and those that receive at least half of their funding from the state to first obtain approval of their budgets from state officials before putting those spending plans before the public. That proposal that would affect Schenectady but few other area districts, and it has raised fierce pushback from district leaders and the organizations that represent their interests in Albany.

While Mujica’s statement doesn’t specify what exactly he is looking for in the state budget, it does align the governor’s policy priorities with the school-level reporting requirement, which is going into effect regardless of the state budget.

Elia noted Mujica’s statement during Monday’s meeting and said it was “very aligned” with the work the department and Regents already have underway.

Some regents raised concerns Monday about how the new school-level financial data would be interpreted by the public, suggesting some parents may be confused about differences in school spending, or that school boards may look to allocate funding at the same level for each school, without taking into account different student needs.

Regents said it was important for local districts to explain to the public why they allocate funding to schools the way they do.

“We need to let our parents know; we need to let our community know,” Regent Catherine Collins said. “One school is getting more? Why?”

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