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IES Grant

Title: Cost Accounting for Student-Level Resources
Center: NCER Year: 2005
Principal Investigator: Hartman, William Awardee: Pennsylvania State University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,104,161
Type: Measurement Award Number: R305E050089

Purpose: Currently school-level per-pupil expenditure data collapse expenditures across students receiving different services. When these data are associated with school-level student achievement scores, the data do not enable administrators to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources in ways that are meaningfully linked to student learning. The purpose of this project is to assist educators in using existing resources to achieve instructional goals. The researchers are developing and field testing a new cost accounting system and procedures that will allow schools and districts to track student-level resources in ways that will enable administrators to make resource allocation decisions that are tied to student-level learning outcomes.

Setting: The participants for the pilot will be drawn from three Pennsylvania school districts: a wealthy, relatively high spending suburban school district; a mid-wealth, low spending rural district, and an urban district. Four to eight additional districts from states other than Pennsylvania, representing a variety of types of districts, will also be selected to participate in additional implementation.

Populations: Personnel from the respective district business offices will participate. Business managers from the pilot districts will also serve as part of the core-working group that will design the cost-accounting model.

Measurement Tool: The researchers are developing a program-based practical managerial accounting system that will provide detailed cost information related to how resource decisions are made for students. The design of this cost accounting system will allow for costs to be first identified by program. Then, student-level costs will be determinable by identifying the programs students receive. The system will be able to collect, organize, and report multiple levels of expenditure data; expenditures will be determinable per student by program, function, and school categories. With these data, administrators will be able to examine the results of current resource allocation decisions and to make reallocation decisions in order to achieve improved academic results.

Research Design and Methods: To design the new cost-accounting system, researchers will build on activity-based cost accounting methods, resource cost model approaches, and traditional accounting practices. The design process is based on the assumption that cost-accounting systems must be compatible with the ways in which administrators make resource allocations in practice. In most school systems, budgeting decisions are usually made for instructional and instructional support programs that serve groups of students with similar educational needs rather than for individual students. Therefore, to produce student-level data, the new cost-accounting system will use programs (defined as "a set of activities and procedures designed to accomplish a predetermined objective or set of objectives") as the base unit of analysis.

In the first year, the initial framework will be fully articulated and a specific set of tools, protocols, and procedures will be developed to implement the system. Also during the initial year, researchers will conduct a survey of all states to establish the status of student-level or school level accounting nationally and will convene a working conference of school administrators to determine the types of data, information, and reports that would be most useful to them. In the second year, the initial cost-accounting system will be submitted to a full year of field-testing with the selected pilot-test school districts. After necessary modifications have been made, a broader implementation with additional school districts will be conducted during the third year.

Key Measures: The primary unit of analysis of the cost accounting system will be the program; the set of programs that will be established for this system will include those whose main objectives are instructional, instructional support, operations support, and administrative. Expenditure data will include all expenditures under the control of the school-level or program-level administrators, consisting of salaries, benefits, and some non-personnel expenditures. Expenditure data will also include expenditures for programs that operate in two or more schools that directly serve students and capital expenditures.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Denison, D.V., Hartman, W.T., Stiefel, L., and Deegan, M.M. (2011). A Model for School-Level Resource Reporting. Public Performance & Management Review, 35 (1): 29–53.

Working paper

Denison, D.V., Stiefel, L., Hartman, W., Deegan, M.M (2009). Accounting for Resource Use at the School-Level and Below: The Missing Link in Education Administration and Policy Making. Working Paper #09–06 . Institute for Education and Social Policy.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Education Policy, Finance, and Systems in FY 2005.