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Public School Transparency Act is a tool citizens, lawmakers need

Updated: Feb 22

Have you ever tried to read your local school district budget? Districts are required to produce budgets - and make them public.

But it's a maze of numbers and jargon that most citizens cannot understand. Even some lawmakers have difficulty concluding if a school district is spending money properly.

Idaho’s largest school district, the West Ada School District, has a budget that can be found online, but it is 336 pages long and includes six different funds and 36 different programs.

In Montana, the Billings Public School district is the state’s largest. Finding its budget on the district’s website is nearly impossible.

Unfortunately, transparency doesn’t mean much if it’s not understandable.

It is for these reasons that Mountain States Policy Center has proposed the Public School Transparency Act.

This MSPC idea would require all public school districts, both on the first page of their budget and also on the front page of the district’s main website, to clearly report six simple things:

  1. Amount of total dollars (all funds – local, state and federal) spent by the district that year

  2. Amount of total dollars spent per student, per year

  3. Amount & percentage of total dollars allocated to average classroom

  4. Average administrator salary & benefits

  5. Average teacher salary & benefits

  6. Ratio of administrators to teachers to students


Very little extra work would be needed to provide this data and make it assessable on paper and online. Most districts already have it hidden somewhere in their budget documents. They know where to look, whereas parents and taxpayers can get lost.


Parents and taxpayers may see this data and conclude their school districts need more resources. Others may see it and believe that not enough is being done to spend money in the classroom. Regardless, the community will have a broader sense of the results being achieved, and what – if any – changes need to be made.

Education leaders like Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield have told MSPC they support the concept.

“It’s a positive for our schools if the communities they serve understand how tax dollars are being spent," Critchfield said. "Let’s face it, school budgets tend to be complex and this is a step that helps simplify the way they’re communicated publicly.”

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