Going Beyond ESSA Compliance:
A 50-State Scan of School Spending Reports

Scroll Down to See How Your State is Doing


BY: Reetchel Presume, MPA, P-12 Data and Policy Analyst, and Ivy Smith Morgan, Associate Director for P-12 Analytics

For over a year, the pandemic has put into sharp focus the importance of money in affording schools the resources to conduct remote instruction, provide meals, and ensure staff to respond to the rising needs of students. It is increasingly clear to the public that how much money is spent in schools, as well as how and where money is invested, significantly influences the educational experiences, outcomes, and futures of students served by our public school system. Yet, for far too long, data on school spending has been obscured or relegated to confusing reporting approaches that fail to provide the type of information useful for community members, and helpful for state, district, and school leaders or advocates who want to ensure equity in resource allocations.

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have added per-student school spending information to school report cards — putting that information in the hands of parents, advocates, and other community members. Compliance with ESSA is a solid starting point. And yet, to ensure resource allocation discussions can be useful for all stakeholders — from educators and policymakers to families and other advocates — states should approach ESSA reporting requirements as a baseline to build upon, not the end goal. Equity-oriented school spending data reporting is key to advancing resource equity in local schools.

ESSA required states to report — at a bare minimum — three numbers representing each school’s per-student spending:

  1. Total per-pupil expenditures (including actual spending on personnel and non-personnel resources)
  2. Per-pupil expenditures of federal funds
  3. Per-pupil expenditures of state and local funds

While there was no formal deadline for reporting the data, nearly all states (39) had published per-student school spending data by June 30, 2020. In the year since, every state has published some per-student data. An early look at school funding reports indicated that while the data being reported answers some important questions, the ability to use these data to evaluate spending equity is limited. Merely complying with ESSA is not enough. Compliance-based reporting will not lead to useful or insightful information.

You can’t fix what you can’t see. Whether this data provides the insight that parents and advocates need to push for equity in school funding depends on whether states make this data available in a way that is accessible, complete, and coupled with contextual information about student need. Such conversations are crucial, and they more urgent amidst the COVID-19 pandemic given that states continue to face fiscal challenges and state and district leaders are working to balance budgets and safely return to in-person learning with more expenses, and more instructional needs.

Introduction Equity-Oriented Reporting Principles Data Reporting Trends State Map Take Action Additional Resources

Principles for Reporting Equity-Oriented School Spending Data

To support states in turning simple per-student spending numbers into information that can generate insight about spending equity and promote action, The Education Trust, in partnership with Education Resource Strategies, developed five equity-oriented principles for reporting school spending data. This report rates states on how well their spending reports align with those principles. The quotes are from state advocates with whom we spoke to further illustrate the value of school spending transparency.


Total & Detail

Provide total per-pupil spending at each school as well as detail by source of funds and location of spending.

Why it matters for equity

Displaying a clear total per-pupil spending amount shows stakeholders exactly how much each school or district spends and serves as a starting point for comparisons of spending across and within districts. Detail spending data by source of funds and location of spending (at the school or in the central office) can reveal where and why inequities may exist.


Provide contextual information to help interpret differences in spending.

Including contextual information about the school or district — such as student need, demographics, and performance — alongside financial data provides information to help make sense of differences in spending across schools and districts. For example, research shows that students from low-income backgrounds, English learners, and students with disabilities require more resources to meet their learning needs.


Provide comparative data on spending and need across districts and schools.

This is the most critical principle of equity-oriented spending reports. The state and district per-student spending average serve as helpful reference points for interpreting a school’s per-student spending amount. Presenting meaningful spending comparisons to other schools and districts allows stakeholders to assess whether spending is differentiated to sufficiently meet various levels of student need.

Beyond Money

Include additional information on how well resources are used to impact student experiences to improve student outcomes.

Reporting information about non-financial resources, such as educators and staff, in the context of spending and need can help stakeholders make meaning of spending data and highlight where inequities exist — both in how much schools and districts spend and how well they use all of their resources to create high-quality learning experiences for all students. 


Be clear and accessible.

Charts and visualizations provide alternative ways for stakeholders to engage with the data. They can illustrate the breakdown of school spending by revenue source or illustrate comparisons to district or state averages in ways that are more powerful than numbers in a table. In turn, this can better equip stakeholders to participate in equity-focused conversations about spending.

Data Reporting Trends

Only one state — Illinois — developed school spending reports that aligned closely enough to the five principles to earn a 100% according to our rating system.** No other state includes all the elements that we consider important for understanding whether funding is being spent equitably. Check out Insight Into Illinois School Spending.

Ten states failed to even include all the elements that are required by ESSA (inclusion on report card, total per-pupil spending number, and data disaggregated by source of funds). Only 41 states’ had reports with all three of these elements.

Just 17 states included spending comparisons across all schools in a district or in the state on their reports.

Only five states (Arkansas, Illinois, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) include visualizations of spending for all schools in the state or district based on student need.

**See the methodology section for more information on how these assessments were made.

How Many States’ Reports Are Aligned With Each Element?

None of the equity-oriented principles work in isolation. All are instrumental in creating a comprehensive view of a school’s access to resources. The context and comparison principles are particularly helpful for digging into why spending varies across schools and how it relates to the student needs of a particular school. An element that we scanned for in school spending reports was “visual comparisons of school spending by student need,” which is a perfect example of how states can combine principles to present data in a meaningful way.

Use the expandable sections below to learn how well states’ spending reports align with our five principles for equity-oriented school spending data. (Click on the plus sign to open each section.)

Total & Detail

Provide total per-pupil spending as well as detail by source and location of spending

What we looked for: Number of states with this element
Total per-student spending 48
Spending by location 27
Spending by source 48
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What states are doing

All states, except three (North Carolina, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), reported total per-pupil spending amounts. Instead of reporting a total amount, North Carolina and Pennsylvania reported disaggregated federal, state, and local per-student spending amounts, and New Jersey’s school spending totals omitted a portion of school-site costs. These practices are not very helpful for stakeholders who want to understand the total amount a school spends on a per-student basis. About half of states reported spending broken down by school-site spending and the school’s share of central office spending.

Most states (48) included spending detail by source. Of the states that disaggregated data by source of funds, five (Alabama, Delaware, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania) provided more detail and reported funds from federal, state, and local sources separately. Three states did not detail spending data by source of funds as required by ESSA (New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oregon).

Twenty-six states presented data for all three elements under this principle.

Bright spot

Wisconsin’s school spending report has a chart that disaggregates school per-student spending data by source (federal, and state/local) and details a school’s total per-student spending at the school site and school’s share of central office spending. ​The reports are found here: wisedash.dpi.wi.gov


Provide contextual information to help interpret differences in spending

What we looked for: Number of states with this element
Student demographics 11
Student performance 5
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What states are doing

Very few states report the contextual elements we looked for alongside their fiscal data to allow stakeholders to interpret differences in spending.

Eleven states included student demographic data alongside school per-student spending data (most commonly the percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch). Only five states (Arkansas, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Oklahoma) reported student performance data in connection to school per-student spending.

Most states (40 states) did not incorporate any contextual elements to help users interpret differences in spending across schools.

Bright spot

Illinois’ school fiscal transparency reports provide district, school, student, and financial information all on one report, allowing users to see per-student spending in context of other data. The reports are found here: https://www.illinoisreportcard.com/Default.aspx


Provide comparative data on spending and need across districts and schools

What we looked for: Number of states with this element
Average spending at state or district level 37
Comparison array 17
Visual comparisons of school spending by student need 5
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What states are doing

The most common comparisons reported (37 states) are of average per-student school spending to average per-student district or state spending. Of those 37 states, 24 states include comparisons to both district and state per-student spending averages.

Only 17 states include per-student school spending for all schools in the district or state on their reports for comparison purposes. And of those 17, only five states (Arkansas, Illinois, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) incorporated the highest leverage element for equity: visualizations, interactive scatterplots in most cases, that allow users to explore relationships between spending and student demographic or performance indicators.

Bright spot

Oklahoma’s “School Report Card Matrix” allows users to compare per-student spending in schools (across the state or filtered by grade-level, Title I status, or school size) to a broad range of variables, including student need (based on various student demographics) and performance (based on percentage of students scoring proficient on various assessments). ​The webtool can be found here:https://escmatrix.com/ok/#matrix

Beyond Money

Include additional information on how well resources are used to affect students’ experiences in schools

What we looked for: Number of states with this element
Financial data is included in school report card 44
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What states are doing

Most, but not all states, include school per-student spending data on their state report card.

Including financial data in school report cards as required by ESSA, makes financial data easier to find, translate, and use. It also helps report cards serve as a “one-stop shop” for users who want to review school spending in the context of non-financial resources, such as educators and staff. Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, and Tennessee did not report school spending data on their report cards.

Bright spots

Nevada, like most states, has per-student school spending data right on the report card. Its accessible summary page makes it easy to locate school spending information: https://escmatrix.com/ok/#matrix


Be clear and accessible

What we looked for: Number of states with this element
Data is presented in charts and/or visualizations 27
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What states are doing

A little more than half of states we reviewed make their school spending reports accessible with visualizations or charts that are engaging and easy to understand.

States varied widely in how they presented data on their websites — from tables in PDFs to bar charts to robust data visualizations.

Bright spot

The District of Columbia’s school spending report compares school spending to the state and district average and provides spending detail by revenue source visually. ​You can find the reports here: https://dcschoolreportcard.org/

* See Education Resource Strategies’ guide, “Reporting for Equity: How States and Districts Can Use the ESSA School Spending Requirements to Present Data that Matters” for more examples of how to design spending reports that align with the five principles and present school spending data in more equity-focused ways.

Insight Into Illinois’ School Spending

What did they do?

Illinois is the only state with reports that aligned to the five principles in our analysis. The school financial report is accessible from the summary page of each school’s report card. The report provides contextual information on student demographics and school performance and facilitates comparisons across schools in a district, by student characteristics and school performance. These features actually help advocates, families, and community stakeholders make meaning of the school spending information.

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How did they do it?

This was no accident. The state’s “Site-Based Expenditure Report” is the product of a deliberate, two-year collaborative planning process that was informed by a diverse set of stakeholders.

At the onset of the initiative, the state formed an advisory group to solicit input and cultivate buy-in from key audiences and users for the state’s school spending reports — including business officials, superintendents, associations, advocates, parent representatives, and community members.

One of the advisory group’s first steps was to develop a value proposition and set expectations for the work ahead. The value proposition represents a shared vision and foundational condition that anchored all steps and decisions in the rest of the process.

The value proposition has four main tenets:

  1. Resource allocation will be more readily accessible to schools and stakeholders
  2. Empowers local education agencies (LEAs) and communities to assess and improve equity
  3. Enables LEAs and communities to gain a better understanding of the relationship between student outcomes and financial resources
  4. Enables LEAs, schools, and the state to identify evidence-based best practices and opportunities to foster innovation between peers
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The value proposition made clear that the goals of the initiative were to ensure school-level per-student spending data was used and that the data would inspire questions and conversations about how schools are funded.

Illinois’ “Site-Based Expenditure Reports” were developed over a two-year iterative planning and engagement process:

State Map

Select a state from the dropdown:

Or select state on map:

Aligned (90-100)    Partially Aligned (60-89)    Not Aligned (0-59)

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Take Action

Thanks to ESSA’s fiscal transparency requirement, most states are reporting per-student spending for each public school in their state. While this is a first step toward greater school funding transparency, states have a long way to go. Most states are not reporting data that is complete, accessible, and allows stakeholders to assess whether differences in spending are associated with student need, which limits its value to the broader public.

This is a missed opportunity. State legislators and state staff have made the investment and effort to publish per-student school spending data. But for this data to be meaningful, state leaders must continuously improve their school spending reports so they inform conversations and decisions around school funding and resource equity. Additionally, states should work to validate data and correct errors to ensure equity comparisons are accurate and useful. State leaders do not need new federal legislation to do this. It is well within the purview of states to update their report cards and provide the information stakeholders need to answer their questions about spending equity, for example:

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  • How does my child’s school spending compare to other schools in the district?
  • Why does my child’s school spend more or less than a comparable school in the district?
  • Do schools that serve high percentages of students with additional needs, like English learners, receive significant additional funding to meet students’ needs?
  • How does spending in charter schools compare to the traditional public schools in my district?
  • And because of the infusion of additional funding from the federal government: How much additional federal funding did the schools in my district receive?

Families, advocates, and community members are primarily concerned about whether students are getting the services they need to thrive, and fair and equitable school funding is foundational to ensuring that, especially as COVID-19 continues to transform the educational landscape. Stakeholders need information, not just numbers, to advocate for more school funding, protect schools from budget cuts, or push to eliminate funding inequities. School spending data can be a powerful tool for change if reports are made accessible, complete, and contextualized. Adopting the equity-oriented practices articulated in our five principles is one way to achieve these goals.

If states are falling short, there are a number of opportunities for advocates to encourage state leaders to improve reporting, including sharing this report with state leaders, encouraging state leaders to learn more about how Illinois reports its data, urging state lawmakers to pass legislation to implement ESSA requirement with a focus on equity, or develop their own reporting tools.

Additional Resources

Federal School Spending Tool

Use this tool from the U.S. Department of Education to see the per-student spending data from states.


See the 4 steps in our methodology.

Other Considerations

See additional elements states could incorporate into their spending reports but were excluded from our analysis.

Other Resources

Scroll down for additional resources on school funding inequities, ways to improve state report cards, and questions to ask districts about new federal funding.

Federal School Spending Tool

The U.S. Department of Education leveraged ESSA’s reporting requirement to develop a “Per-Pupil Expenditure Transparency” interactive map and tool available at studentspending.ed.gov. The website includes per-student spending data from 38 states (including the District of Columbia) as of June 2021.

The “Per-Pupil Expenditure Transparency” website makes the school spending information that is now available on individual state websites more accessible for researchers, advocates, and community members by compiling spending information for schools in one place and making data available in downloadable files.


Step 1: Develop Criteria

To understand how state reports align to the five principles for reporting equity-oriented school spending data, we identified one to three specific elements for each principle; in total, we identified 10 elements to rate state school spending reports against. Though we considered others, we chose only 10 elements to prioritize equity-oriented features that were relatively easy to identify across various spending reports. These do not represent the full scope of elements that we think are valuable to reporting; for more information on elements that we considered but ultimately excluded, see the Other Considerations section.

Step 2: Rating

To develop ratings, we scanned websites for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to find school per-student spending reports and assessed whether they incorporate an element. States produce state-, district- and school-level report cards. Our analysis focuses on the per-student spending reported on school-level report cards. Though we did not evaluate state- or district-level report cards, we recorded notable features that were found on those reports. We did not review mobile versions of school report cards and finance reports or machine-readable data downloads. We rated features valuable to our primary audiences of advocates, parents, and community members.

Even though ESSA requires states to publish data on report cards, some states chose to publish their school-level spending data in other locations. For states with data located on school report cards, we checked at least two schools to confirm that an element was consistently included. We also rated per-student school spending data on finance reports that exist outside of the report card. We completed our scan in February 2021. Between February and June, we added data for four states (California, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Tennessee) that published school-level spending reports after February; we also updated Texas’ rating to exclude features that were removed from their report after February.

Step 3: Scoring

Our analysis includes an assessment of school spending reports across a curated list of elements, which we grouped into to three different domains for scoring purposes:

  • ESSA Requirements: elements that are required by ESSA, specifically total per-pupil spending, spending by source, and integration into the school report card (20 points each). ESSA’s requirement to include actual personnel and non-personnel spending was outside the scope of this analysis.
  • Context Elements: elements that help users make meaning of per-student spending numbers for an individual school. When several of these elements are present together, they can facilitate equity-oriented comparisons. (5 points each)
  • Equity Elements: elements that that facilitate equity-oriented understanding and comparisons (10 points each)

States received credit for all features presenting school-level, per-student spending data that was included on the report card or on another state website. However, if a state included per-student school spending information in multiple places, we gave partial credit (15 points instead of 20) for the “Integrated into school report card” element. Multiple reports with per-student school spending data risks confusing users who have to check multiple locations for this information. States that had no per-student spending data on the school report card, received no points for the “Integrated into school report card” element. (If per-student spending data for the relevant school was linked to the report card, the state received credit for this element.) To calculate scores, we added up the points for elements featured in each state’s per-student school spending report. The maximum possible score is 100 points, and we used a point scale to assign a color to each state to easily distinguish how states aligned to our equity-oriented principles. States that incorporate all the ESSA requirements we looked for score high enough to earn a “yellow.”

Color Scale
Aligned  90-100
Partially Aligned 60-89
Not Aligned 0-59

Step 4: Confirm & Review


To confirm ratings, a second set of internal reviewers re-assessed school-level per-student spending reports against the 10 elements.


We requested verification of our ratings from state education agency staff in each of the states included in our analysis. We reconciled discrepancies between original ratings, second ratings, and any SEA feedback to form our final ratings and scores.

Elements & Definitions

Below is the list of elements and definitions included in our analysis.

Principle Element School-level spending reporting receives credit if it includes… Scoring Domain Points
Total & Detail
Total per-pupil spending A single, total per-pupil expenditure amount ESSA 20
Spending by location Detail on spending 1) at school site; and 2) used by the central office to support schools Context 5
Spending by source Detail on spending by source of funding (federal, state/local or federal, state, and local) ESSA 20
Student demographics Percentages from one or more of these groups: students from low-income backgrounds, English learners,
students with disabilities, and students of color, located on the school spending report or finance
section of the school report card and presented in connection with school spending data
Context 5
Performance data Student academic performance (e.g., summative rating or achievement indicator), located on the school
spending report or finance section of the school report card and presented in connection with school
spending data
Context 5
Average district- or state-level spending Total average spending per-student for the state in which the school is located and/or total average
spending per-student for the district that operates the school
Context 5
Comparison array Comparisons of spending across all schools within the district or state Context 5
Visual comparisons of school spending by student need Visual comparisons of spending across schools based on student demographic or student performance
Equity 10
Beyond Money
Integrated into school report card School-level spending data that is integrated into the school report card site ESSA 20*
Data visualization Charts that enable comparisons of per-pupil spending data, e.g., detail for the individual school,
comparisons to district or state averages, or comparisons across schools within a district or state
Context 5

* If a state has school per-student spending data in both their report card and a separate report, they receive only partial credit (15 points). Including per-student school spending data on more than one report risks confusing users who have to search multiple locations for this information.

Other Considerations

This analysis considered 10 elements that we believe are important to help improve the usability of school-level per-student spending reports. When updating or revising school report cards, states could also consider incorporating the following elements into their spending reports.

Publish Business Rules on School Per-Student Spending Reports

  • State-issued business rules require all districts to calculate school level per‐pupil expenditures in the same way to allow comparison across districts. Business rules should include an explanation of which costs (e.g., teacher salaries or student transportation) are reported at the school level, the district level, or both. Business rules are especially important in cases where definitions and calculation methods may differ across districts.

Detail Per-Student Spending by Federal, State, and Local Revenue Sources

  • Separating per-student spending from state and local sources allows stakeholders to assess the equity of state funding — which we know is more equitably allocated than local funding — and better identify high-poverty/low-wealth districts with unmet funding needs.

Include Actual Personnel and Non-Personnel Expenditures

  • This is a requirement of ESSA. Historically, school-level spending data has been calculated using average personnel expenditures, rather than actual expenditures. Reporting averages can hide inequities across schools because salaries make up most school budgets. Educator salary schedules are usually structured so that more experienced teachers receive higher salaries. This means that schools with more inexperienced teachers (often higher need schools) will have lower school spending than averages might show.

Include Definitions of Key Terms

  • Defining terms allows stakeholders to understand data and prevents misinterpretations of data.

Make Reports Accessible in Languages Other Than English

  • To enable a wider set of stakeholders to engage in conversations about resource equity, spending reports should be available in all languages commonly spoken by students and families across the state.

Support Data Visualizations With Clear Descriptions

  • Visualizations should include clear, jargon-free descriptions that help stakeholders make meaning from the data.

Include a Downloadable Data File for All Schools in the State

  • A downloadable dataset of school spending data for all schools in the state in a single file can better allow stakeholders to examine spending patterns.

Other Resources

From Numbers to Insight

For decades, researchers have used federal data to show that within states, the districts with the most students from low-income backgrounds and the most students of color receive less funding that districts with the fewest students with these characteristics.

Learn how to leverage ESSA’s school spending requirement to advocate for fair funding.

Learn More

Reporting for Equity

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires all states to report school-level spending data.

To help state-level practitioners design better school spending reports, Education Resource Strategies created the guide “Reporting for Equity: How States and Districts Can Use the ESSA School Spending Requirements to Present Data that Matters.”

Learn More

Show Me the Data 2021

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) has examined report cards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to see how well state leaders are using their most public-facing resource to empower the public with quality information.

Check out DQC’s report for analysis and recommendations for how states can improve their report cards.

Learn More

ESSA”s New Fiscal Reporting Requirements

What does the Every Student Succeeds Act require states to include on their annual report cards about school funding? What is that important information for equity? Check out this factsheet that breaks down the basics of the law and how it can be used as a tool by advocates.

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New York School Funding Transparency Tool

Ed Trust-NY has built this tool to help the public better understand how funds are spent within school districts, and whether resources are reaching the students who most need them. Learn more about funding inequities in New York and find out how you can make your voice heard.

Learn More

A Moment of (Early) Truth: Taking Stock of School-by-School Spending Data

Edunomics Lab does a first-cut analysis of per-pupil reporting in hindsight of the June 30, 2020 deadline set out by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Learn More

5 Questions to Ask Districts About How They Will Use New Federal Funding to Support Students

To ensure the $125 billion in federal stimulus funds, provide by the American Rescue Plan, are used equitably, here’s what advocates and families should ask district leaders.

Learn More