by Jason Bedrick
Florida earns high marks for its innovative education reforms and strong academic performance, but its level of financial transparency leaves much to be desired. In a new report from the Cato Institute on financial transparency, the Florida Department of Education earned a D for the data published on its website.
The report, “Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending?”, examines the spending data that all 50 state education departments make available to the public on their websites. The report reveals that very few state education departments provide complete and timely financial data that is understandable to the general public.
As in school, these grades are intended to be informative, not punitive. Since Florida has a record of striving to improve, here are a few ways the FLDOE could be more transparent with its data:
1) Report total per pupil expenditures, not just operating. Half of all state education departments publish total per pupil expenditure (PPE) figures but Florida does not. At present, the FLDOE’s “Financial Profiles of Florida Districts” only includes “current expenditures per UFTE (unweighted full-time equivalent),” which excludes expenditures for capital projects and debt service. While these expenditures are reported separately, citizens looking for the total cost per pupil would have to break out a calculator.
The differences between total and operating PPE can be quite significant. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2009-10), Florida’s total PPE was $10,283 on average that year while Florida’s Financial Profiles reported that operating PPE was only $8,578.
Moreover, citizens looking for the change in PPE over time would have to gather the data from multiple reports since the FLDOE does not provide a single chart or table displaying that data. By contrast, the FLDOE does provide a table showing the change in average employee salaries over time.
2) Break down total salary data and publish average employee benefits.