5 Things Equity Advocates Should Know About…. The Office of Research and Education Accountability’s (OREA) Per-Pupil Expenditures Data Dashboard
1. Within Tennessee, districts have significant flexibility to allocate funding to schools.
The Basic Education Program (BEP) is Tennessee’s funding formula, not a spending plan, to appropriate state funds to districts. Once allocated, districts have latitude to distribute funds to individual schools. For example, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools use student-based budgeting to allocate resources based on need, including students who are English language learners, economically disadvantaged, and other groups. Other districts determine school funding allocations through central office decision-making processes. OREA’s analysis identified significant student identity (e.g., students who are English Learners and economically disadvantaged) variation between schools in a single district. As a result, per-pupil expenditures are critical to increase transparency in district allocations.
2. Per-pupil expenditures are critical to evaluate funding inequities within districts.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires state Departments of Education, beginning with 2018-19 data, to annually publish their per-pupil expenditures of federal, state, and local funds for every school and district on their state report card. Per-pupil spending is calculated by dividing total school expenditures ($) by student enrollment as of October 1st. Reporting spending at the student level allows stakeholders can more clearly understand what resources a student receives and disparities between schools, providing important context and information. Additionally, examining per-pupil expenditures allows districts to evaluate investments in strategies that improve student outcomes and inform the scaling of best practices.
3. Advocates can leverage the OREA Data Dashboard to examine per-pupil expenditures for their schools and districts based on students who are economically disadvantaged, English Learners, and students with disabilities.
In addition to the interactive tools that increase stakeholder transparency, OREA also includes full data sets that can be downloaded for further analysis. Given the vast differences between district size and student demographics, OREA recommends using the dashboard to compare school funding within districts. Additionally, OREA does not advise isolating a single factor to determine why certain schools spend more per pupil than others.
4. Per-pupil expenditure calculations are determined by October 1 enrollment, which can negatively impact schools with higher student mobility rates.
As outlined in ESSA, states must calculate per-pupil expenditures using October 1st enrollment rates. Previously, Average Daily Attendance (ADA) informed calculations. Some districts and schools have high student mobility rates, particularly those with high percentages of students who are economically disadvantaged and students of color. If schools and districts enroll a substantial number of students with higher needs after the October deadline, the per-pupil expenditure may underestimate the funding that each student receives.
5. The financial data collection process limits the depth of comparisons and underestimates funding disparities between high and low-wealth districts.
In their brief, OREA notes that TDOE (Tennessee Department of Education) did not require districts to distinguish between state and local sources or demonstrate financial breakdowns, including individual expenditures or accounts. Also, private funds (e.g., fundraising from parent-teacher associations and booster clubs) are not included in school or district figures, which underestimates funding disparities between low-wealth and high-wealth schools. As a result, while the OREA Data Dashboard is a valuable tool for advocates, it cannot account for these differences.
- During their 2020-21 State Report Card release, TDOE mentioned that they would include average per-pupil spending during late fall of 2021. How can OREA and TDOE collaborate to strengthen the data collection process mentioned above and ensure timely and comprehensive updates to Tennessee’s Per-Pupil Expenditures Data Dashboard and State Report Card as required under ESSA?
- The pandemic’s impact, including historical levels of federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) dollars, will certainly impact school funding for the next few years. Is it possible to also include ESSER funding by student and school on the OREA Data Dashboard to capture a more comprehensive picture of school-level funding?
- How can OREA’s Data Dashboard and other resources inform upcoming revisions to the BEP funding formula?
- Tennessee’s Per-Pupil Expenditures Data Dashboard currently disaggregates, or separates, school funding data for students who are economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Is it possible to also include funding data by all races currently tracked by TDOE?