Mo’ Money, Less Transparency?
Earlier this week, Louisiana’s House of Representatives Education Committee heard House Bill 526 by Representative Rick Edmonds, which would require all local public school systems to post certain fiscal information online. The bill would provide parents and the public with easy access to school budgets, revenue and expenditure reports, contracts, and audits to help them better understand how their tax dollars are being used to educate students and support their learning needs.
Louisiana public schools receive approximately $4 billion in local revenue, $4 billion MFP in state funds, and $1 billion in federal funds. Over the past few years, they have received an additional $4 billion in flexible funding from the federal government to address student learning loss and other COVID-19-related needs. Given recent declines in student academic outcomes in a state that already ranks at the bottom of states nationally for K-12 education, many parents and policymakers have expressed great interest in how schools are spending these dollars, particularly for tutoring, academic interventions, and other student supports. [Read more on this in our February 2022 blog.]
Governor Edwards and the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have proposed an increase in state funding for public education for the 2022-2023 school year, including pay raises for teachers and other school staff, stipends for mentor teachers, and increased funding for high school courses. These additions represent a $93 million increase for public education from 2021-2022 funding levels.
Both House Bill 526 and House Concurrent Resolution 23, the legislative instrument that contained the proposed $93 million funding increase, were heard in the House Education Committee on the same day. In a shocking move, the Louisiana School Boards Association opposed the transparency measure, claiming that posting fiscal information online would be too burdensome and suggesting that interested individuals submit formal public records requests to schools for any fiscal information they wish to receive.
Legislators disagreed, reporting the bill favorably by a vote of 8-3 for consideration by the full House of Representatives.
Accessing information about how public dollars are being spent to educate our state’s children shouldn’t be so difficult. State agencies have found a way to do it, creating the Louisiana Checkbook database for the public to easily access fiscal information. The Lafayette Parish School System has also made it possible, presenting up-to-date fiscal information on an easy-to-understand site with tables, graphs, and filtering options. Surely other school systems can merely post existing financial documents and reports on their own websites without making parents and other stakeholders follow a formal inquiry process that the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office had to explain in this 30-page guide.
The people of Louisiana deserve better, to be able to quickly and easily review how their tax dollars are being spent by the government to invest in our state’s most precious resource – our children.