Colorado Governor Works To Publish School Spending Details Online

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to publish the details of school budgets online and is planning to disclose every dollar earmarked for public education. The governor will ask the state legislature next year to introduce the public disclosure requirement, writes Reid Wilson of The Washington Post.

In a recent interview, Hickenlooper said a Web-site can be created to track every dollar to every school every day.

“So far, no state’s ever had total transparency on how their tax dollars are spent to every school,” Hickenlooper said in a recent interview. “So you can create a Web site where every dollar to every school every day is tracked. How much goes to the teacher, how much goes to their pension, how much goes to the bureaucracy, how much goes to maintaining the facility. Really focus on making each school an enterprise.”

Most states disclose details about school budgets. Some publish details about how much money goes to school districts, while many disclose details like teacher and administrator salaries, building and construction costs. A new survey published earlier this year by the libertarian Cato Institute revealed that half of states only report per-pupil expenditures, a number that leaves out costs like capital expenditures. The Cato report found that 10 states do not publish data on employee salaries, while 41 states do not disclose information on benefits.

According to the survey, New Mexico and South Dakota are the top states for school spending transparency. Colorado earned a D+ grade.

“There are many school districts that still do not do a good job tracking expenditures,” said John L. Myers, an education policy analyst and vice president of the Denver-based Augenblick Palaich and Associates. “They don’t see it as part of the state’s role to do what [Hickenlooper] has suggested.”

In addition to Colorado, a few other states are also considering similar disclosure requirements. In Pennsylvania, a state representative introduced a new bill in September that would make building-level data available to the public. The state is taking this step after the founder of a cyber-charter school was indicted on charges he siphoned more than $8 million from the company for his personal use.

“When school officials know when people are watching, wasteful spending will be exposed, prevented and hopefully stopped. It could change the behaviors of school officials,” state Rep. Jim Christiana, the sponsor of the Pennsylvania legislation, said at a September news conference, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

Hickenlooper said that disclosing school spending would also reveal that all school districts do not receive the same resources. Once the system is developed, it would show that state is not spending equally and low income neighborhoods do not get the same amount of money, according to Hickenlooper.

The Census Bureau figures show that Colorado spent about $8.6 billion on elementary and secondary education in fiscal 2011. About 40% of that money comes from state coffers, while 48.7% comes from local governments. The data shows that about a third of that money was spent on teacher salaries.