Think tank pans Florida's school spending reporting system
Florida's education system has often won praise for its data collection and use. But not this time.
The conservative Cato Institute has issued a report grading states for the way they present education financial data to the public, and gave Florida a D- -- 30th among all states. Nineteen states got an F or F-, with Alaska at the very bottom.
Regarding Florida, the organization states that the public cannot easily compare per-student expenditures over time, and that the most current details are not included. The state also does not include employee benefits information in its data about employee salary, the Cato report says.
Additionally, the Florida Department of Education presents many of its financial reports in PDF format, making it harder to sort through, although its website is easy to navigate, Cato states.
Why report this? From the introduction: "When the state education departments provide incomplete or misleading data, they deprive taxpayers of the ability to make informed decisions about public school funding. At a time when state and local budgets are severely strained, it is crucial that spending decisions reflect sound and informed judgment."
The Florida Department of Education has taken issue with the Cato point of view. Spokesman Joe Follick said the department strives to provide as much information to the public as possible, in keeping with the state's open records laws.
"Florida’s school district financial reporting systems have long been considered among the best, particularly the program cost reporting system that attributes all educational costs to the education program within a school to provide a comprehensive education cost per student,' Follick said via e-mail.
"The National Center for Education Statistics in its document, Financial Accounting for Local and State School Systems, uses Florida’s cost reporting system as the model for other states. The Cato report does not seem to have properly investigated all of the financial information that is available on the website. Regarding availability of Excel versions of the report, we have always provided Excel versions of the school district financial profiles upon request and can certainly add those to website."