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How to use the Per-Pupil Mandate to Advance Equity & Excellence

PIE Network's Penny for Your Thoughts: Without ESSA Regs, How Do We Leverage the Law?

View this story as it originally appeared on the PIE Network's Resources & News page.

ESSA accountability regulations were overturned. What now? We know reform advocates will continue their work to support ESSA engagement and implementation at the state level. At the same time, a complicated landscape just became even more murky for those on the front lines. To help navigate through the complexities, we’re tapping the expertise of eight PIE Network federal-facing partners. Jonathan Travers weighs in. - PIE Network 

Leveraging Spending to Provide Resources to the Students that Need Them Most

If executed effectively, ESSA’s mandate to report school level per-pupil expenditures can help advance equity and excellence by revealing the extent to which states and districts invest more in schools with greater student needs and informing strategic resource use by highlighting differences in spending patterns.

The ESSA statute mandates that districts publicly report per-pupil expenditures at both the district and individual school levels. The statute provides an opportunity for states to demonstrate leadership and a commitment to equity and excellence by not just complying with the requirement, but by designing and implementing a methodology that will allow districts to use data to make strategic and smart decisions for the equitable distribution and use of resources.

What can advocates do?  

If executed effectively and complemented with the right supporting data, this transparency can help advocates interested in equity and excellence by revealing the extent to which states and districts invest more in schools with greater student needs and what they are spending on. We know that students who are further behind typically need more resources to catch up. Yet the degree to which actual practice reflects this (if at all)—especially after controlling for dedicated investments like special education—varies widely across districts and states. Imagine how your advocacy could be strengthened by having visibility into questions like:

  • Do schools that serve students with similar needs get similar amounts?
  • What are the main drivers of differences in spending?
  • Do schools that have high concentrations of novice teachers receive supplemental resources?
  • Do schools that have higher performance and similar student populations use resources differently?

Right now, SEAs are supposed to be developing methodology and infrastructure to enable the calculation and reporting of these metrics. Advocates should make sure the design of these reports will provide meaningful data that drives action and will support districts in:

  • Reporting school-level spending accurately
  • Providing information to make sense of differences across schools
  • Placing school spending metrics in the context of a broader set of metrics on resource use and equity

Longer term, advocates can build grass roots demand for this information and mobilize stakeholders whose causes will be strengthened with greater financial transparency. For more information, see From Financial Transparency to Equity a brief co-created with Chiefs for Change. 


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