Follow the Money
Believe it or not, the average amount spent per student in Missouri last year was over $13,000. Do you ever wonder where more than $250,000 spent on a classroom of 20 students goes? So did we—so we built a website to help answer this question. The average teacher salary is just over $52,000. Even with benefits, that leaves a lot of money. Maybe it goes to books, computers, administration, utility bills, buses, and gasoline. Maybe it goes to legal fees and advertising, professional development for teachers, travel to conferences and membership fees.
Of course, public education has a lot of moving parts and they all cost money. But it’s public money—our money. That’s why the Show-Me Institute decided to build a website that would allow anyone to see how every dollar was spent in 2021 in each of the 551 public school districts and charter school local education agencies in the state. MOSchoolRankings.org, which already has two years of school and district report cards with letter grades, now also shows where every dollar came from and how it was spent. These data were already available on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website as Annual Secretary to the Board (ASBR) reports. We simply put them into a single data file and built a portal to make it easy for users to dig into the numbers.
Did we include spending on land, buildings, or other capital? Those are in the ASBR, so, yes. Did we include principal and interest payments on debt? Yes, we did. Did we include district revenue from athletic event admissions and bookstore sales? We did. Did we include revenue that one school district pays to another school district? We did. Did we include revenue that parents pay as tuition to send their children to a school outside their district? We did. Did we include revenue from bond sales that are issued to build things? We did. If the district reported it to the state as a source of revenue or as an expense, we included it.
I believe that the public sector should make it easy for citizens to see how their money is being spent. I don’t believe that the powers that be should tailor spending numbers to include some things and exclude others. So we’re providing everything, and users can decide what they consider to be relevant. Heck, we even made the entire data set of nearly 500 variables for each district available for download. And the DESE accounting manual can be accessed on the site.
Of course, when you look at the numbers for a district, you may have some questions. Those are questions that ought to be answered by superintendents, school boards and DESE.