Fiscal Transparency is Never Unnecessary
Last week, Governor Edwards announced a shocking veto of a bill that would have created fiscal transparency in our schools. The bill would have required Louisiana’s larger public-school systems to post information about their revenues and expenditures to the Louisiana Fiscal Transparency Website known as “Louisiana Checkbook,” and required smaller school systems to post existing fiscal reports to their own websites for the benefit of the citizens they serve.
The legislature agreed that Louisiana’s kids deserve a system that doesn’t hide its finances from taxpayers, but Governor Edwards’ veto will allow school board spending to stay in the shadows. In the governor’s veto message he claimed fiscal transparency to be “simply unnecessary” and stated that “our local school systems simply do not have the resources or technology” to share fiscal information with Louisianans.
Fiscal transparency of taxpayer dollars is never unnecessary. The least government can do is tell us where they are spending our tax dollars. To call increased transparency “unnecessary” for citizens represents everything wrong with state and local governments that have forgotten they exist “for the people.”
On the other hand, the argument that a minimal investment of dollars to simply post financial information to a website is “unaffordable” just doesn’t hold up. The legislative fiscal office reported that Louisiana public school systems will spend a record $6.5 billion in FY22, thanks to years of steady state funding and significant federal relief dollars awarded over the past year. The press has also reported that school districts have been slow to spend $1 billion in federal aid awarded in FY21 and develop spending plans for an additional $3 billion provided for in FY22, even though the funds have been granted with very few restrictions.
Louisiana outspends most of our neighbors on our cost per student, but we consistently have some of the worst outcomes. We need transparency, so we can assure that our tax dollars are being spent wisely to invest in our children’s futures. No longer should citizens have to leave dozens of messages for school staff, submit public records requests, or take time away from their families sitting through hours of local school board meetings to find out how their tax dollars are being spent to support education. We can and should make that information easier to obtain so that more citizens can be actively engaged in promoting positive change in their local schools.
Transparency isn’t unnecessary and unaffordable. It’s necessary and absolutely achievable in this digital age, requiring only the courage to do so.