Despite spending more on education than most of its neighbors, Louisiana is producing worse outcomes for its students and paying its teachers less. Solving this problem is made more difficult by the lack of transparency around the details of exactly how and where taxpayer dollars are being spent on education.
While we know Louisiana spends more than $12,000 per pupil, the cloak of secrecy surrounding the system makes it impossible for parents, teachers and other taxpayers to know where all the money is really going. However, student test results do make one thing abundantly clear – the dollars are not following the students into the classroom.
While some progress has been made on student performance in recent years, the Department of Education found in 2017 that both 4th and 8th grade students in Louisiana tested well below the national average in both math and reading. Louisiana’s 4th graders ranked 48th in reading and 50th in math achievement compared to other states, while only 16 and 23 percent of 8th graders were proficient in math and reading respectively.
By adding transparency to education spending, we can work to reverse these negative trends while making the system more accountable to parents, students, and all taxpayers. Congress already approved increasing educational transparency with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.
Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to cut through the shroud of mystery surrounding the details of Louisiana’s education spending. However, there is a school district in the state moving toward greater transparency, and the results have been positive for students, parents, and other taxpayers in the community.
Last year, the Lafayette Parish School Board established the Lafayette Checkbook. The Lafayette Checkbook posts all Lafayette School System financial transactions online in an easily understandable format. It doesn’t take an accountant or educator to understand where the money is going, which makes the system accountable to everyone with access to the online portal.
This level of transparency not only gives school districts the desire to be better stewards of tax dollars, but it also encourages schools to better live within their means. We’ve made some progress toward greater transparency in recent years, but we’re not nearly across the finish line yet.
If we want to break the cycle of overspending and poor results while getting a handle on when money is, and isn’t, reaching Louisiana’s students, we must increase education spending transparency across the board.