New CATO Report: Cracking The Books
The CATO Institute recently released a report, “Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending.” Researchers at CATO scoured the websites of each state’s department of education. They did not judge how much money each state spent, rather how well each state reported those expenditures. Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) did not fare well in the report, receiving an “F-” and a ranking of 42nd.
Among other things, DESE was marked down because the website is “somewhat difficult for the layperson to navigate.” Heck, I would say it is somewhat difficult for someone immersed in education policy to navigate. As the report notes, “There is a link to ‘School Finance’ under the ‘Financial & Admin. Services’ dropdown box on the main menu, but the expenditure data is not located there, nor at the ‘Financial Reports’ or ‘Data & Reports’ links on the menu bar.” That is certainly confusing.
The CATO report brings to light several other areas that could be improved:
- Allow per-pupil expenditures over time to be adjusted for inflation.
- Provide data on capital expenditures.
- Provide data on total salary expenditures.
- Provide data on pension contributions.
- Provide data on employee benefits.
I think the CATO suggestions are reasonable. If implemented, they would be of tremendous help to Missourians who want to track where our tax dollars are going. Government agencies don’t always respond well to criticism. Nevertheless, I hope the folks at DESE will take this criticism seriously and look for ways to improve their presentation of data.