“In its amicus brief filed with the state Supreme Court in the Lake View case, the Arkansas Policy Foundation points out that, in 1996, the Clinton administration recommended a similar accounting system for the country’s public schools.”

Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, Feb. 10, 2002

Arkansas has made significant progress toward academic and fiscal transparency since the Policy Foundation recommended adoption of a financial analysis model in 1998. Many educational statistics, including standardized test scores, are now available to parents, school board members and other citizens. We recommended, in 2007, reporting categorical expenses for athletics. This process has started but needs to be improved upon by reporting data online in an easy-to-understand format.

Actions taken this decade represent real progress toward a fully transparent K-12 public school system but refinements are needed to complete this task.

School board members described the need for a transparent K-12 system to the Murphy Commission. “Because of our accounting system, our district is data rich, but information poor,” a group of Northwest Arkansas board members told the panel. “There is an old management adage with which the Department of Education should become familiar. We cannot successfully manage what we cannot measure. And we cannot improve what we cannot manage. Board members and superintendents alike know exactly where every district dollar originates, but not a single one of us can tell you how many of those dollars reaches a classroom in our district.”

The Foundation recommended reporting expenditures to the public by categories including classroom instruction, administration, building maintenance, transportation and other commitments. One board president summarized the reasoning process behind this recommendation: “Ford Motor Company can tell you how much it costs to produce an ashtray or headlight. I can’t tell you how much it costs in my district to teach a ninth grade History class.” Today the state Department of Education reports district categorical expenses to the public on its web site.

The following refinements should be made to the existing system:

  Data compiled by the state Department of Education should be reported online in an easy-to-understand format.

  Expenses in all categories should also be presented using bar graphs, pie charts and other formats that are easily understood by citizens.