What We’re Learning: Early Lessons on New Spending Data


The Every Student Succeeds Act, known as ESSA, contains a less known provision that sets reporting requirements for school spending. Data on per-pupil budgets and per-pupil expenditures will be available for every school in every community. This is a significant change from the past, when data was largely only reported by average district expenditures. 

The U.S. Department of Education granted states an extension to post the data after 2018-19, but some states are already releasing data reflecting the 2017-18 school year. ESSA requires states to report this data by 2019 on the ESSA-required state report card. Some early reporting states are releasing this through other outlets until 2019. Some states are reporting data aligned with the voluntary Interstate Financial Reporting (IFR) criterion that enables comparisons across states. Georgia is one of only a few states with the ability to compare expenditure data linked to student outcomes.

These early reporting states have realized some early lessons. Most of these states have shared the data with local education agencies (LEAs) as early as possible and encouraged a review for quality to avoid unintended errors or confusion. State education agencies (SEAs) have reinforced the facts that the data is the districts’ and taking ownership early allows for more planning time to develop communications appropriate for their situation. In some states, there was not as much media attention as expected, likely due to the intentionally quiet release of the data. In New York, there was significant coverage, likely due to the budget transparency and the use of visuals created by The Education Trust – New York. One of the big takeaways is the conversations ensuing from the data release. Those who do the analysis of reported data control the conversation. For example, analysis on spending by race will direct attention to race. Analysis on high needs school will result in attention to student needs, as in the case of New York.

States that reported early and show the data on their ESSA state report card:

States with early reporting on non-ESSA sites (sampling of states):

At the foundation, we believe this work is important to a larger equity conversation. This analysis is possible through our investment with the Edunomics Center at Georgetown. We will continue to pay close attention to these data releases.

John Fischer is a Senior Program Officer on the U.S. Policy, Advocacy and Communications team. John is on the National Policy and Advocacy team working with the K12, PS and P16 Pathways strategies.