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Institute of Education Sciences

Collecting School-Level Finance Data: An Evaluation From the Pilot School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS)

Policymakers, researchers, and the public have long voiced concerns about the equitable distribution of school funding within and across school districts. More recently, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that states and school districts add per pupil expenditures, disaggregated by source of funds, to their annual report cards for each local education agency (LEA) (e.g., school district) and school. In response to this these requirements, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) developed a new collection of finance data at the school level—the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS).

The SLFS collects at the school level many of the same expenditure variables currently being collected at the district level on the School District Finance Survey. The pilot SLFS was designed to evaluate whether the survey is a viable, efficient, and cost-effective method to gather school-level finance data. Findings from the pilot survey were recently released in an NCES report titled The Feasibility of Collecting School-Level Finance Data: An Evaluation of Data From the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS) School Year 2014–15.

Here’s some of what we learned:

 

Many states participating in the SLFS were able to report complete personnel and/or nonpersonnel expenditure data for a high percentage of their schools.

Of the 15 states that participated in the SLFS in school year 2014–15, 9 states were able to report school-level finance data for greater than 95 percent of their operational schools (figure 1). Other than Colorado and New Jersey,[1] all states were able to report SLFS data for at least 84 percent of their schools, ranging from 85 percent in Kentucky to nearly 100 percent in Maine. Just over one-half of reporting states (8 of 15) reported all personnel items (i.e., dollars spent on salaries and wages for teachers, aides, administrators, and support staff) for at least 95 percent of their schools. Seven of 15 states reported all nonpersonnel items (i.e., dollars spent on purchased services, supplies, and other costs not directly related to school employees) for at least 95 percent of their schools.  
 


Figure 1. Percentage of operational schools with fiscal data reported in the SLFS, by participating state: 2014–15

NOTE: This figure includes operational schools only (i.e., excludes closed, inactive, or future LEAs). The count of schools reported includes schools that can be matched to the Common Core of Data (CCD) School Universe files and for which at least one data item is reported in the SLFS.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS),” fiscal year 2015, Preliminary Version 1a; “Local Education Agency Universe Survey,” 2014–15, Provisional Version 1a.



SLFS data are generally comparable and consistent with other sources of school finance data.

A substantial majority of personnel expenditures can be reported at the school level. Personnel expenditures reported for the SLFS were reasonably comparable with the district-level and state-level data.[2] For common personnel expenditures, the absolute percentage difference between the SLFS and the district survey was less than 9 percent in 8 of 10 states (figure 2). The absolute percentage difference between the SLFS and the state-level survey for common personnel expenditures was less than 9 percent in 6 of 10 states.
 


Figure 2. School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS), School District Finance Survey (F-33), and National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS), by participating state: 2014–15

NOTE: Total personnel salaries include instructional staff salaries, student support services salaries, instructional staff support services salaries, and school administration salaries. This figure includes all schools in the SLFS and all LEAs in the F-33. Only states where reporting standards are met are included.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS),” fiscal year 2015, Preliminary Version 1a; “National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS),” fiscal year 2015, Final Version 2a; and “School District Finance Survey (F-33),” fiscal year 2015, Provisional Version 1a.



There are numerous inherent challenges in collecting school-level finance data: 

  • Communicating the vision of why reporting school-level finance data is important to school finance practitioners.
  • The pilot SLFS did not collect all types of current expenditures.
  • Some states had not fully developed standardized protocols or procedures for reporting finance data at the school level. 
  • There are varying legal requirements for the types of schools that are required to report finance data and the types of expenditures schools and districts are required to report.
  • The survey’s data item definitions were not consistent with states’ internal accounting for some items.

During the pilot survey, NCES and Census Bureau staff took action to address these challenges. 

 

Evidence suggests that it is feasible to collect accurate and informative school-level financial data.

States participating in the SLFS are improving internal data systems and protocols, which will allow them to report complete and comparable school-level finance data. The SLFS promotes efficiency by incorporating long-established NCES standards for school district financial accounting. The results of the pilot SLFS survey demonstrate that it is feasible to collect accurate and informative school-level finance data. The informational and analytical value will increase as response rates improve and as states improve their capabilities to collect complete, accurate, and comparable finance data at the school level.

 

By Stephen Q. Cornman, NCES; Malia Howell, Stephen Wheeler, and Osei Ampadu, U.S. Census Bureau; and Lei Zhou, Activate Research


[1] In 2014–15, Colorado did not require all school districts to report finance data at the school level; thus, data is reported for only 26 of Colorado’s 262 LEAs. In New Jersey, school-level finance reporting is required only for its “Abbott” districts, which make up only 31 of the state’s 702 districts.

[2] NCES’s Common Core of Data (CCD) program collects school finance data through three annual surveys: the school-level SLFS, the LEA-level School District Finance Survey (F-33), and the state-level National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS). Five data items are common to all three fiscal surveys (i.e., are collected at the school level for the SLFS, at the LEA level for the F-33, and at the state level for the NPEFS): instructional staff salaries, student support services salaries, instructional staff support services salaries, school administration salaries, and teacher salaries.

 

 

 

New Data Available on Crime and Safety in Public Schools

The prevalence of crime in America’s public schools continues to be a topic of much concern and discussion among parents, students, educators, and policymakers. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides the latest data to help inform conversations and debate about school safety.

The report, Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools, presents new information from the 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS). SSOCS is a nationally representative survey of school principals that collects detailed information on both incidents of crime in U.S. public schools and the practices and programs schools have implemented to promote school safety.

This report presents selected findings on a wide range of topics, including violent and nonviolent incidents, disciplinary problems and actions, security measures, security staff, mental health services, and limitations on crime prevention. In addition to presenting updates for data that have been published in prior SSOCS reports, the new report highlights topics not covered in previous reports, including the number of incidents involving the use or possession of a firearm or explosive device at school as well as the percentage of schools that have “panic buttons” or silent alarms that directly connect to law enforcement in the event of an incident.

Data on both school crime incidents and school safety practices are available by various school characteristics, such as school type, enrollment size, and locale (i.e., whether the school is located in an urban, suburban, or rural area).  

One key finding highlighted in the report is that most schools have written plans for various emergency scenarios. In school year 2017–18, the most common types of plans reported were for responses to natural disasters (94 percent), active shooters (92 percent), and bomb threats or incidents (91 percent).

 



 

The report also presented other key findings from the 2017–18 school year:

  • Seventy-one percent of U.S. public schools reported that at least one violent incident occurred at school during the school year.
  • Three percent of schools reported that there was at least one incident involving the possession of a firearm or explosive device at their school.
  • Forty-six percent of traditional public schools had a school resource officer present at school at least once a week, compared with only 19 percent of charter schools. Conversely, a higher percentage of charter schools than of traditional public schools had a security guard or other security personnel present at least once a week (35 vs. 21 percent).
  • Restorative circles were used more frequently in schools with a higher enrollment of minority students. A restorative circle is a formal mediation process led by a facilitator who brings affected parties of a problem together to explore what happened, reflect on their roles, and find solutions that address individual and community concerns. Among schools with at least 50 percent minority enrollment, half (50 percent) reported involving students in restorative circles. However, in schools with lower minority enrollment (20 to 50 percent), a lower percentage of schools reported involving students in restorative circles (38 percent).
  • Fifty-one percent of schools provided diagnostic mental health assessments to evaluate students for mental health disorders, and 38 percent provided treatment to students for mental health disorders.

To access the full report, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019061.pdf. SSOCS:2018 data files will be released later this year. Due to the sensitive nature of SSOCS data, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the full SSOCS:2018 restricted-use data file. A public-use data file—with some sensitive variables removed—will be released after the restricted-use data file.

 

By Sam Correa and Melissa Diliberti (AIR) and Rachel Hansen (NCES)

 

 

Revenues and Expenditures for Public Schools Rebound for Third Consecutive Year in School Year 2015–16

Revenues and expenditures per pupil on elementary and secondary education increased in school year 2015–16 (fiscal year [FY] 2016), continuing a recent upward trend in the amount of money spent on public preK–12 education. This is the third consecutive year that per pupil revenues and expenditures have increased, reversing three consecutive years of declines in spending between FY 10 and FY 13 after adjusting for inflation. The findings come from the recently released Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2015–16 (Fiscal Year 2016).

 

 

The national median of total revenues across all school districts was $12,953 per pupil in FY 16, reflecting an increase of 3.2 percent from FY 15, after adjusting for inflation.[1] This increase in revenues per pupil follows an increase of 2.0 percent for FY 15 and 1.6 percent for FY 14. These increases in revenues per pupil between FY 14 and FY 16 contrast with the decreases from FY 10 to FY 13. The national median of current expenditures per pupil was $10,881 in FY 16, reflecting an increase of 2.4 percent from FY 15. Current expenditures per pupil also increased in FY 15 (1.7 percent) and FY 14 (1.0 percent). These increases in median revenues and current expenditures per pupil between FY 14 and FY 16 represent a full recovery in education spending following the decreases from FY 10 to FY 13.

The school district finance data can help us understand differences in funding levels for various types of districts. For example, median current expenditures per pupil in independent charter school districts were lower than in noncharter and mixed charter/noncharter school districts in 21 out of the 25 states that were able to report finance data for independent charter school districts. Three of the 4 states where median current expenditures were higher for independent charter school districts had policies that affected charter school spending. The new School District Finance Survey (F-33) data offer researchers extensive opportunities to investigate local patterns of revenues and expenditures and how they relate to conditions for other districts across the country.

 

 

By Stephen Q. Cornman, NCES; Malia Howell, Stephen Wheeler, and Osei Ampadu, U.S. Census Bureau; and Lei Zhou, Activate Research


[1] In order to compare from one year to the next, revenues are converted to constant dollars, which adjusts figures for inflation. Inflation adjustments use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. For comparability to fiscal education data, NCES adjusts the CPI from a calendar year basis to a school fiscal year basis (July through June). See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 106.70, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_106.70.asp.

IPEDS Finance Data Reveal How Pension Benefits May Contribute to the Growth of Public Postsecondary Institutions’ Financial Liabilities

In the long-standing conversation of high college costs, ever wonder what public colleges and universities owe? For Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) using the Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS) found that 1,624[1] public institutions carried debt and total financial obligations of $451 billion in current dollars (see figure 1).

New finance data from IPEDS can now provide more insight about these obligations than was previously available.

Several common financial obligations or liabilities[2] can be found across all U.S. postsecondary institutions. A portion of an institution’s liabilities can be attributed to pension benefits and contributions (i.e., pension liabilities). Since fiscal year 2015, IPEDS collected data on these obligations as a specific part of the total debt held by public postsecondary institutions.  For example, the total amount of pension benefits and contributions that public institutions owed their employees in FY 2017 was $95 billion (see figure 1).

 



 

Before FY 2015, institutions did not have to report to NCES their pension liabilities and the total liabilities for public institutions were $304 billion in FY 2014.  However, after the change in reporting standards, the total liabilities for all public institutions jumped to $395 billion in FY 2015. This increase is greater than increases in all other fiscal years from 2012 to 2017. This finding suggests that the implementation of the new pension reporting standards may have contributed to the change in the increasing trend of total liabilities data.

Reporting Change in Context

Prior to the revised pension reporting standards, dating back to 1997, public institutions reported the difference between their annual required contribution to the pension plan(s) and the actual annual contribution (e.g., net pension obligation). The revised standards—known as Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statements 67 and 68—require institutions to report the entire unfunded pension amount (e.g., net pension liability), not just the amount of deficiency in annual payments.

Including the full current pension liability of the institution instead of the annual shortfall in pension funding of the institution resulted in large shifts in the balance sheet of many public institutions. For example, if an institution had a total of $2 million in pension liabilities, prior to 2015 this institution would not report the $2 million in net pension liabilities, just the amount below the required contribution for that year that was actually paid. Now, this institution must report the full $2 million in net pension liabilities, even if the annual required contribution had been paid in full. This revision of the financial reporting standards resulted in increased transparency and accuracy of the total amount of liabilities reported by institutions.

Additional IPEDS Resources

NCES encourages educational researchers to use IPEDS data—a primary source on U.S. colleges, universities, and technical and vocational institutions. For more information about the IPEDS data, visit the IPEDS Survey Components page.

While finance data from the IPEDS collection may seem to be targeted for accountants and business officers, researchers interested in a postsecondary institution’s financial health can explore through expense and revenue metrics, resulting in possible data-driven, bellwether information. To learn more about an institution’s finance data, in particular its pension benefits, click here for the current finance survey materials; archived changes to the survey materials in 2015–16 (FY 2015)—such as the implementation of the new pension reporting standards; and links to Video Tutorials, FAQs, glossary definitions and other helpful resources.  

 

 By Bao Le, Aida Ali Akreyi, and Gigi Jones


[1] This total includes 735 four-year public institutions, 889 two-year public institutions, and 63 administrative public system offices (41 four-year and 22 two-year offices). Administrative system offices can report on behalf of their campuses. The four non-Title IV-eligible U.S. service academics are not included.

[2] Liabilities include long-term debts (current and noncurrent) as well as other current and noncurrent liabilities such as pensions, compensated absences, claims and judgments, etc.

Celebrating School Library Month: A Look at Library Media Centers

 

April is School Library Month, which recognizes the important role that school librarians and libraries play in K-12 education. More than 90 percent of public elementary and secondary schools have a library media center, according to the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), which collects data about school librarians and libraries. In honor of School Library Month, here are some facts and figures from the NTPS.

 

Library staff

  • Public schools employed approximately 56,000 full-time librarians and library media specialists in the 2015–16 school year, as well as an additional 17,600 part-time librarians and library media specialists.

  • Since there were more library media centers (82,300) than librarians and since some schools may employ more than one librarian, not every school with a library media center also employed a school librarian. On average, had 0.7 full-time and 0.2 part-time librarians and library media specialists.

 

Library media centers

  • In the 2015–16 school year, 91 percent of public schools had a school library media center. Overall, there were approximately 82,300 public elementary and secondary schools with a library media center.

  • The presence of school library media centers varied by the grade levels taught at schools. In the 2015–16 school year, higher percentages of primary schools (96 percent) and middle schools (95 percent) had library media centers than high schools (80 percent) or combined schools (79 percent).

  • The presence of school library media centers also varied by the type of community in which schools were located. About 88 percent of city-based schools had a library media center in the 2015–16 school year, which was lower than the percentage of schools located in suburban areas (92 percent) and rural areas (94 percent).

  • While the vast majority of public schools have a library media center, the percentage fell slightly between school years 2003–04 and 2015–16, from 94 percent to 91 percent, respectively (see Figure 1 below).

 


Figure 1. Percentage of public schools reporting the presence of a library or library media center: 2003–04 to 2015–16

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), “Public School Data File,” 2003–04, 2007–08, 2011–12, and National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), "Public School Data File,” 2015–16.


 

More information about school libraries, public libraries, and academic libraries is available through the Library Statistics Program and the NCES Fast Fact on Libraries. In addition, analysts can access these data using DataLab to conduct their own analyses of NTPS and other National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) surveys.

 

By Maura Spiegelman