To fully understand the scope of what it means for a school district to be "compliant," one must first become intimately familiar with the notion of accountability. That task begins and ends along the money trail.
Although federal aid is often a lightning rod for debate, the overwhelming majority of public education funds come from state and local sources. In fact, even as the federal contribution percentage continues to rise, it still accounts for just a little over 10% of K-12 funding. This may come as a surprise to most, given the results of a recent Education Next poll
on school reform, in which respondents indicated a belief that 32% of funding is coming from the federal level.
There’s no need to look far for an understanding of how accountability works at the local level. Annual budget discussions occur (or should) in a public forum and, often the democratic process forces school board members to scrutinize and justify expenditures to their community. The process is not always as transparent or efficient as it should be, but yet more often than not, voters ultimately get the final say.
No less an authority than the U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for K-12 education to the states. As a result, we see a wildly disparate gap in the amount of funding that gets allocated for education based on where you are in the country. In fact, average per-student spending over the past five years ranged from a little more than $6,000 (Utah) to just under $20,000 (New York). That’s a pretty significant difference, no matter how you slice it.
The funds that are ultimately divvied up to local education agencies (LEAs) depend on a number of variables that make up the state’s funding formula. This is where measurements like attendance percentage, free-and-reduced meal eligibility, and IEP hours come into play. Of course, with so much on the line, these formulae are dependent on timely and accurate data that the state doesn’t have access to on its own.
Just like that, we’re right back where we started on the topic of school district compliance. After all, how can the state make financial decisions based on district-level data without having a reliable system in place to retrieve those figures? The burden falls on school districts to collect that data, compile it, and meet a strict reporting schedule for submission to the relevant state agencies.