NCES annually publishes comprehensive data on the finances of public elementary and secondary schools through the Common Core of Data (CCD). For many years, these data have been released at the state level through the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) and at the school district level through the Local Education Agency (School District) Finance Survey (F-33).
Policymakers, researchers, and the public have long voiced concerns about the equitable distribution of school funding within and across districts. School-level finance data provide reliable and unbiased measures that can be utilized to compare how resources are distributed among schools within districts.
Education spending data are now available for 15 states at the school level through the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS), which NCES has been conducting annually since 2014. In November 2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved changes to the SLFS wherein variables have been added to make the SLFS directly analogous to the F-33 Survey and to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provisions on reporting expenditures per pupil at the school and district levels.
Below are some key findings from the recently released NCES report Highlights of School-Level Finance Data: Selected Findings From the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS) School Years 2015–16 (FY 16) and 2016–17 (FY 17).
Eight of the 15 states participating in the SLFS are able to report school-level expenditure data requested by the survey for a high percentage of their schools.
The initial years of the SLFS have consistently demonstrated that most states can report detailed school‑level spending data for the vast majority of their schools. In school year (SY) 2016–17 (FY 2017), most states participating in the SLFS (8 out of 15) reported school-level finance data for at least 95 percent of their schools (figure 1). With the exception of New Jersey, all states were able to report at least partial SLFS finance data for more than 78 percent of their schools, ranging from 79 percent of schools in Colorado to 99 percent of schools in Oklahoma. In addition, the percentage of students covered by SLFS reporting was more than 99 percent in 9 of the 15 participating states.
Figure 1. Percentage of students covered and percentage of schools with fiscal data reported in the School-Level Finance Survey (SLFS), by participating state: FY 2017
The SLFS can be used to evaluate school-level expenditure data based on various descriptive school characteristics.
The SLFS allows data users to not only view comparable school-level spending data but also evaluate differences in school-level spending based on a variety of school characteristics. In the report, SY 2016–17 (FY 2017) SLFS data were evaluated by charter status and urbanicity. Key findings from this evaluation include the following:
- Median teacher salaries in charter schools were lower than median teacher salaries in noncharter schools in all 7 states that met the standards for reporting teacher salaries for both charter and noncharter schools (figure 2).
- School expenditures were often higher in cities and suburbs than in towns and rural areas. Median teacher salaries, for example, were highest for schools in either cities or suburbs in 9 of the 10 states that met the standards for reporting teacher salaries in each of the urbanicities (city, suburb, town, and rural) (figure 3).
Figure 2. Median teacher salary for operational public elementary and secondary schools, by school charter status and reporting state: FY 2017
Figure 3. Median teacher salary for operational public elementary and secondary schools, by school urbanicity and reporting state: FY 2017
Median technology‑related expenditures per pupil were also highest for schools in either cities or suburbs in 9 of the 11 states that met the standards for reporting technology-related expenditures in each of the urbanicities, with schools in cities reporting the highest median technology-related expenditures per pupil in 6 of those states.
The SLFS can be used to evaluate and compare school-level expenditure data by various poverty indicators.
The report also evaluates and compares school-level spending by school poverty indicators, such as Title I eligibility and school neighborhood poverty level. Key findings from this evaluation include the following:
- In SY 2016–17 (FY 2017), median teacher salaries were slightly lower for Title I eligible schools than for non-Title I eligible schools in 7 of the 8 states where standards were met for reporting both Title I eligible and non-Title I eligible schools. However, median personnel salaries per pupil were slightly lower for Title I eligible schools than for non-Title I eligible schools in only 2 of the 8 states where reporting standards were met.
- Median personnel salaries per pupil for SY 2016–17 were higher for schools in high‑poverty neighborhoods than for schools in low-poverty neighborhoods in 7 of the 12 states where standards were met for reporting school personnel salaries.
To learn more about these and other key findings from the SY 2015–16 and 2016–17 SLFS data collections, read the full report. The corresponding data files for these collections will be released later this year.
 The following 15 states participated in the SY 2015–16 and 2016–17 SLFS: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wyoming.
 Spending refers to “current expenditures,” which are expenditures for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts for public elementary/secondary education. For the SY 2015–16 and 2016–17 data collections referenced in this blog, the SLFS did not collect complete current expenditures; the current expenditures collected for those years included expenditures most typically accounted for at the school level, such as instructional staff salaries, student support services salaries, instructional staff support services salaries, school administration salaries, and supplies and purchased services. As of SY 2017–18, the SLFS was expanded to collect complete current expenditures.
 In New Jersey, detailed school-level finance reporting is required for only its “Abbott” districts, which comprised only 31 of the state’s 699 school districts in SY 2016–17.
 “Median teacher salaries” are defined as the median of the schools’ average teacher salary. A school’s average teacher salary is calculated as the teacher salary expenditures reported for the school divided by the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers at the school. Note that this calculation differs from calculating the median of salaries across all teachers at the school, as the SLFS does not collect or report salary data at the teacher level.
By Stephen Cornman, NCES