Hurray! Three Colorado School Districts Win National Transparency Award

Today the group Sunshine Review (“a national nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency”) unveiled its 2012 Sunny Awards to the 214 government agencies that have the most transparent websites. Colorado is represented by six agencies, including three school districts:

All three earned grades of A-minus. That’s great, but it still puts us behind states like Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Texas and Virginia, which each have 10 or more award-winning agencies and at least one A-plus school district.

Now some of you may remember a paper my Education Policy Center friends released last fall, titled Time to Show the Money: Complying with Colorado’s Public School Financial Transparency Act. Jeffco, Denver and Mesa 51 were all among the 26 local education agencies that earned the highest possible rating for posting timely and accessible budget, spending and other financial information online.

Most school districts fell short late last year. But even in the first weeks after the report was released, evidence emerged that many improvements were being made. Until my friends get to take a close look again, we all are hopeful of even more progress.

In giving out its awards, though, Sunshine Review takes a broader look beyond the budgets and financial information contemplated in the Education Policy Center report. Both Jefferson County and Denver received lesser than a perfect grade for providing inadequate online information about contracts. Mesa 51 was marked down for not providing parents information about whom to contact to retrieve their students’ records.

(Not included in the rating is the information Colorado districts provide families on the open enrollment process — incidentally, Mesa 51 has come a long ways since getting the lowest rating of 20 districts on the 2007 Education Policy Center report Open Enrollment and the Internet.)

Overall, when it comes to using their websites to provide transparency, these three Colorado school districts deserve some applause for setting a high standard of online openness. Looking ahead to the 2013 awards, though, here’s hoping Colorado school districts raise their game and put our state among the very best.