ESSA Reporting Mandates Necessitates Robust Software

Connexeo - 05/16/2018

School districts have a little more than 1½ years before they must begin reporting their per pupil, per school expenditures under the federal Every School Succeeds Act. While the December 2019 deadline will be here before anyone knows it, most districts are still in the dark about exactly how to go about handling the necessary reporting.

Many states have yet to decide the parameters of how their reporting systems will work. That still leaves districts scrambling to acquire the necessary data. An article on the District Administration website explains that many are still confused about whether states will require costs of transportation, technology, special education and pre-K, among other items, in their reporting.

While most of the public discussion surrounding the new reporting requirements has revolved around potential finding of inequities in funding, the primary issue education administrators will face will likely be in finance office operations. As a recent article in “Education Week” stated, “State education departments that it’s a daunting task to come up with school-by-school data using districts’ somewhat antiquated finance systems.”

Wholesale changes to districts’ budgeting processes may be in order, if school-by-school reporting is to become the benchmark. One report stated that while about 65% of a district’s spending takes place at the campus level, only 48% of the budgeting is done at that level. The rest is budgeted centrally from the district office.

The task becomes especially difficult in states, such as Delaware and Wyoming, that have especially complex funding formulas. Those formulas make it difficult to separate state and local revenue sources, as ESSA mandates. Many states have told districts they will need to update their school finance software in order to meet the federal requirements.

Even the few states that already mandate reporting per-school, per-student spending will continue to modify their processes. Rhode Island, for example, has reported at this level since 2006, and for the 2015-16 school year (the latest data available), spending ranged from $9,000-$45,000 per pupil. The highest-end school was once that housed only an early childhood learning center. The lowest-end school was an elementary in a low-income neighborhood.

But Rhode Island’s data is not well accessed by researchers, and state education officials are continuing to debate ways to make the data public. Again, changes to software will likely be necessary.

The purpose of this reporting is to increase transparency of how school funding is distributed and, many believe, to distribute funding more equitably, though there many schools of thought on how that would work. The ultimate goal, of course, is to provide the best education for every student involved in the public education system.

That transparency can be maximized with school finance and budgeting software that digs down into all accounts and separates expenditures in each by school. The software should be robust enough to handle campus and account additions, and flexible enough to handle changing budgetary priorities.

Districts still have more than 18 months to prepare for the news ESSA reporting requirements, but the window is closing fast.

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