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Making Money Matter: Financing America's Schools
data as an imperfect proxy for taxable wealth. Another avenue for further data development relates to cost adjustments in school finance formulas (discussed in Chapter 7).
LEVEL OF EDUCATION ABOUT WHICH DATA ARE COLLECTED
In the past, school finance data, especially on a national basis, have been collected almost exclusively at the state and school district level. Growing concern about educational performance, however, has heightened the demand for all kinds of data, including finance data, to be collected at the school level, as efforts to decentralize decision making to principals, teachers, and parents move forward. Scholars interested in probing productivity questions would even like to study resource levels in individual classrooms and for individual students. Increasing awareness of intradistrict disparities in resource allocation has also spurred demand for better measures of school-to-school differences in spending. Finally, policy makers concerned about accountability and about how to determine proper funding levels for schools (like charter schools) that may operate outside district budgets need improved information on expenditures at the individual school level.
School-level finance data development is, in most states, in its infancy, although there are notable exceptions. Florida, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas are among states that have or are developing school-based financial reporting systems; and New York City does school-based reporting for its approximately 1,000 schools. By all accounts these are massive and time-consuming undertakings, especially since policy makers may (as in Oregon) accompany requirements for new financial accounting with mandates that school-level financial data be combined with school-level information about staffing, student demographics, school processes, and student outcomes and be available to the public and to policy makers via the Internet. Such efforts require major investments in standardizing accounting procedures across districts and schools, developing new accounting categories to capture new data elements of policy interest, automating record-keeping and data transmission, and providing training for district and school personnel.
While state policy makers, auditors, and business leaders are often behind the push for school-level information on performance, supporters of school-level accounting also hope that these new systems will encourage a more data-oriented climate at the local level, with principals, teachers, and parents beginning to ask new questions about their own schools and how they compare with others. In this way, better information might become an engine of school reform, increasing community pressures for improvement that may be more successful than top-down mandates.
While the big investments that are necessary to develop school-based accounting systems may indeed pay off in data that are particularly useful and used for improving education, this outcome is by no means certain. The political