Dear Wichita: Look to Colorado for Financial Transparency Examples

Today is one of those terrific days when I’ve discovered a great new education blog. I’m talking about Education Debate at Online Schools, authored by the mysterious Matthew. He got my attention by linking to a post I wrote and calling me “the sharpest 5 year old in the entire education debate.” Let me tell you. No matter what you’ve heard, in some cases flattery indeed will get you somewhere.

Anyway, last week Matthew wrote a great post bringing attention to a financial transparency development in Kansas’ Wichita School District. Local officials posted the district’s checkbook online, a mildly positive step that Matthew rightly addressed with a critical eye:

On the financial disclosure: B for effort, D for execution.

On the PR supporting it: A+ for selling a mediocre, indecipherable product to those who never bothered to pop the hood.

Ouch. I wouldn’t want that to be my report card.

But after all, there’s financial transparency, then there’s financial transparency — something I brought to your attention last year when it was a hot topic for debate at our State Capitol. From that debate Colorado emerged with pretty good legislation requiring greater financial transparency from school districts (HB 1036), though SB 91 would have been even stronger.

Even so, since Matthew brought Wichita Public Schools to my attention, it seems like a good opportunity to introduce them to some resources that might help them improve their first stab at online financial transparency. First, check out a 2010 issue brief written by Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow titled “What Should School District Financial Transparency Look Like?”. It’s based on the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s model “Public School Financial Transparency Act” — another fine piece of work if I do say so myself.

Last but not least, Kansas’ largest school district would be well served to inspect what two of Colorado’s largest school districts (both bigger than Wichita) have done to implement effective financial transparency, above and beyond (and before the adoption of) last year’s HB 1036. Jefferson County has done a good job on this front. My personal favorite, though, is Douglas County — yes, the same Douglas County taking significant strides forward in the area of school choice.

It might be hard for the good folks of Kansas to admit they could learn something from their neighbors to the west on this topic. But for the sake of taxpayers saying “If you can’t defend it, don’t spend it,” it’s time to get on board… all the way.