Afton facilitates statewide advisory group with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) as part of the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) Fiscal Equity and Return on Investment (ROI) project and the site-based expenditure reporting requirement in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The evolution of Afton’s work on education funding systems led to our work to design an exemplary per pupil school spending reporting system with the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”). In alignment with the Fiscal Transparency component of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and with Illinois’ goals for Fiscal Equity and Return on Investment, Afton led school per pupil spend reporting development, guidelines, and training with ISBE from 2017-2019. Our work included a year-long facilitation of an Advisory Group that was made up of urban and rural superintendents and business officials, education advocates, and labor unions. We incorporated many shared principles of student-based budgeting work into this initiative, such as:
- Empowering LEAs and communities to assess and improve equity;
- Ensuring the concept of linking student needs to spending was widely understood by districts and their stakeholders;
- Enabling LEAs and communities to gain a better understanding of the relationship between student outcomes and financial resources;
- Enabling LEAs, schools, and the state to identify evidence-based best practices and opportunities to foster innovation between peers;
- Making resource allocation data more readily accessible to schools and stakeholders; and
- Encouraging the use of data to drive resource allocation decision-making within districts.
We are proud to say that our final product on the Illinois State Report Card with ISBE has been cited by several experts as the best practice, including most recently in the Education Trust’s report on “Going Beyond ESSA Compliance” where they said, “Only one state — Illinois — developed school spending reports that aligned closely enough to the five principles to earn a 100% according to our rating system. No other state includes all the elements that we consider important for understanding whether funding is being spent equitably.” Further, Ed Week stated: “Illinois has been a national leader because of its embrace of public input and its insistence that the data be used to spark dialogue within districts.” And as observed by the Edunomics Lab, “Illinois stands alone in providing spending comparisons within each district, across districts, and enabling side-by-side comparison of school spending and outcomes.”
 Going Beyond ESSA Compliance – The Education Trust (edtrust.org): https://edtrust.org/school-spending-beyond-compliance/
The Illinois State Board of Education funded this project with a grant from the United States Department of Education. This grant allowed for a series of related efforts to enable districts, schools, educators, state policymakers, and the community to access information more quickly and easily to support and improve state and local resource allocations, instruction, and student outcomes. This effort built from existing investments, and these projects were meant to accelerate Illinois’ movement from a compliance model of data management to a service model focused on utilization of data for state and local education system improvements.
Defining the value proposition of site-based expenditure reporting is the important first step in this work – it should guide the design of the accounting requirements, collection process, and visualization of the data. In Illinois, the state’s value proposition for this reporting focuses on empowering communities and their school districts – with the belief that site-based expenditure reporting has the ability over time, when used effectively, to drive local conversation and inquiry that is in the best interests of students. It is with that philosophy in mind that the State has been able to define its own proper role in this reporting as well as design some guardrails for the reporting that meet the value proposition. Specific to Illinois, that has led to a limited requirement for data collection and reporting to the state – driving home the fact that school districts know their data best and it is their right and responsibility to tell their own story.
Spending the time to engage stakeholders leads to a more meaningful approach and result. Like most states, Illinois has a very diverse set of school districts as it relates to student demographics, size, and geography. To design and implement site-based expenditure reporting, ISBE convened an Advisory Group comprised of 25 superintendents, business officials and association leaders from across the state. This group has representatives of small, medium and large districts, rural, urban and suburban. The idea is to acknowledge the diversity of the state and ensure the differences in value and impact of this work are considered in both the planning and implementation. Members of this group have not always shared the same perspectives on the design components of the accounting guidance – pushing the group to gather more data from districts and subject matter experts before coming to conclusions.
This is not exclusively a financial exercise. While there is a strong accounting and financial reporting component to site-based expenditure reporting, the value proposition has acknowledged that this reporting in of itself lacks meaning unless it is paired with context at the school level – such as student demographics, student outcomes, and school staffing information. The idea is to:
- Make resource allocation more readily accessible to schools and stakeholders
- Empower LEAs and communities to assess and improve equity
- Enable LEAs and communities to gain a better understanding of the relationship between student outcomes and financial resources
- Enable LEAs, schools, and the state to identify evidence-based best practices and opportunities to foster innovation between peers