Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Grading Education Finances

The Cato Institute published a study that grades states on their fiscal responsibility and accountability in regards to education spending. States like New Mexico received an "A" for transparency and accountability. Texas received a "B" citing some minor lack of transparency. In addition, Texas had a few  points docked due to not having the 2012-13 real expenditures calculated and adjudicated against the budget.

A great feature of Cato's report is you can click on your state and get the specifics. Further, they link directly to the published reports. This gives you the ability to see for yourself where the money is going, or at least part of it, depending upon the amount of disclosure.

For example, if you go through the Texas link, it brings you to the Texas Education Agency's (TEA) financial reports page. Within the reports page, you can look at your specific district (ISD) or charter school. Delving deeper, you can look at your specific school(s) your children attend.

Over the past year, we've reported on Judson Independent School District and two schools in the district. Let's take a look at their records.

Judson ISD budgeted for roughly $190 million in revenues to include over $9 million in federal funds. Per Capita (per student) income was $8,423 per student. Their listed overall expenditures and disbursements (outflow) was just shy of $194.5 million. The amount spent per student was $8,612.

What this translates to is deficit spending of about $4,000,000.00 or a spending deficit of $189 per student.

Picking one of the schools in the district, Woodlake Elementary, we can see different numbers.

The revenue or allotment amounts is not yet available, and won't be until May 2014. However, the expenditures were just over $3.5 million, or $5,062 per student.

That leaves quite a disparity. One school's expenditures were $3,550 less than the district's average. Understandably, high schools require a bit more funding for supplies, especially in the science field. But should that lead to that sort of disparity between the average and what is spent in one school?

That is a great question for a school board meeting. The report also raises others. For example, with a $189 per capita deficit, can the district account for why some schools are doing better on lower per capita expenditures?

Of note, roughly 95% of the school's expenditures went to payroll and benefits, 81% of the per capita costs were teachers' salaries.

The school spent $0.00 on school security. Many of the faculty are confident what they can do in case of an emergency situation, such as an active shooter incident. It is unknown if any of the teachers have acquired the special CCL Texas now offers/authorizes.

Other topics in education reform are bolstered by this report. One such example is the school-choice issue. With a district's expenditures per student at over $8,000 and a school's reported per capita costs at near $5,000, then a school-choice voucher program that grants $4,500 per student in vouchers would be rather cost-effective. The districts and schools keep the difference, which benefits the schools. The parents get more choice. You can run a very good homeschooling program on $4,000 a year.

Thanks to Cato's report and the hyper-linked data, #WeTheParents have some good tools for use in making our kids' lives better, with greater opportunities.