Can Colorado Make K-12 Dollars Clearer?
(H/T Ed News Colorado) Yesterday’s Washington Post posted a story under the headline “Colorado’s Hickenlooper wants to put school budgets online”:
“So far, no state’s ever had total transparency on how their tax dollars are spent to every school,” Hickenlooper said in a recent interview.
Looking ahead to 2014, it’s encouraging to read about bipartisan political will to track every dollar of school spending. Now that the smoke from Amendment 66’s smoldering wreckage has started to clear, it’s nice to see greater financial transparency as a serious policy discussion rather than a selling point for a (failed) billion-dollar tax increase. But will the governor continue to insist that creating this kind of online financial transparency would cost $18 to $20 million?
My issue with the Washington Post headline is the unwitting implication that school budgets currently aren’t online. (Though it’s hard to blame the headline writers too much when there isn’t any information readily available on the governor’s web pages to give us the details of what he is really proposing.)
The state’s 2010 Public School Financial Transparency Act already requires every school district and charter school in Colorado to post budgets and other key financial documents online. Two years ago, my Education Policy Center friends reported on early successes and shortcomings in compliance.
Meanwhile, two of the state’s largest school districts — Douglas County, and more recently Jefferson County — have taken significant strides toward transparency. But as the Washington Post story points out, financial transparency at the state level in Colorado is wanting. A study earlier this year from the Cato Institute gave Colorado a D-plus for our state education agency’s sharing and reporting of financial data.
Of course, that report was looking at the kind of data that researchers like to track and compare. Not necessarily at the same level of line-by-line detail that is available in varying levels of accessibility on the local district websites. However, the more easy the Colorado Department of Education can make accessing and understanding the big picture of revenues and expenditures to researchers ultimately trickles down more clearly to the everyday citizen.
But I like thinking bigger than just making a shinier database or putting more spreadsheets on the website. The fundamental issue is how we fund K-12 learning in Colorado:
The State Board chairman says the solution for Colorado’s sub-par transparency rating rests with the legislature adopting some fundamental reforms that empower families and cause funds to bypass local bureaucracies. “If money flowed to a student’s backpack, it would be easy to track,” [Paul] Lundeen said.
With that kind of a system better serving individual children’s needs, transparency would just flow downhill. It’s nice to have a big dream for the holidays, something to push us forward into 2014.