Rhode Island Revolutionizes School Finance Analysis with SchoolNomics™

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Rhode Island officials have just released a groundbreaking series of reports that give the public an accurate comparison of how their schools are spending $2.3 billion in 2010 funding. The reports were developed with Rhode Island's new Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA), which creates a consistent comparison of school financial data. The UCOA is based on EDmin's SchoolNomics methodology, a patented process that benchmarks every district's spending on a per-pupil basis.

We soon will be able to examine our data to see where investments in education have led to improved student achievement.

In a widely praised effort, Rhode Island education officials have released a series of new reports that give the public an accurate, transparent comparison of how their schools are spending $2.3 billion in 2010 funding.

The reports are based on a new tool, the Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA), which is a key part of Rhode Island's school finance reform. The UCOA lays the foundation for consistent comparison of school financial data.

Rhode Island’s Education Commissioner, Deborah A. Gist, explained that the effort is groundbreaking. "UCOA will help districts ensure that they are using their investments to improve instruction and advance learning," she said. "We will use UCOA to identify effective practices. We soon will be able to examine our data to see where investments in education have led to improved student achievement."

The UCOA reports are based on SchoolNomics™, a methodology that links all costs that benefited students to individual schools in a district. SchoolNomics is used to benchmark every district's spending on a per-pupil basis. Want to know how much Rhode Island schools spend on face-to-face teaching per pupil? The state average is $7,695 per pupil.

How about per pupil spending for transportation ($559), professional development ($275), or compensation and benefit costs for teachers ($7,459)? You can easily find the state average for many categories--and what was spent by the school in your neighborhood.

The SchoolNomics methodology was provided by EDmin, a San Diego-based educational software company. SchoolNomics general manager Rick Wells, a CPA and UCOA expert, worked closely with Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) officials to create a progressive school finance analysis.

“RIDE is empowering taxpayers in a way that is meaningful. Academic progress has a cost. Some programs are more cost effective than others. The financial analysis allows the discussion of how to spend taxpayer investment in education to focus on what works, at what cost," he said.

“Schools do not all have the same costs, nor should they," said Wells. "The UCOA allows analysis at the school level to see how the cost decisions compare between similar schools throughout the state. As a result, district and school leaders are better informed as they make investment decisions for their students. Educational leaders recognize that decisions such as class size, the use of teacher aides and specialists, and the amount of professional development provided are local decisions which greatly influence school performance."

Because all data is reported using uniform methodologies, the UCOA also creates the basis for accountability measurements, Wells added.

The effort to create accountability in Rhode Island school spending began several years ago, when the late lawmaker Paul W. Crowley led an effort to standardize the way in which districts account for expenditures and to provide greater accountability to assist decision-makers at all levels. A coalition of the state's Department of Education, Auditor General and school districts, including charter schools, began work on the UCOA project in 2006.

To date the UCOA reports have drawn the praise of Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, state legislators and the state superintendents association. The data released this month also caught the attention of school finance blogger Chris Tessone at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "The Department of Education deserves a round of applause for a timely and powerful move toward greater financial accountability," he wrote.

For more information on Rhode Island’s UCOA, along with accompanying guides, user codes, and frequently asked questions, visit the Rhode Island Department of Education UCOA page.

SchoolNomics is powered by IN$ITE® and owned by EDmin. The patented process was developed by the international accounting firm, Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and has been recognized for "school site reporting prowess" by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Based in San Diego, EDmin's focus is Connecting Educators to What Works. The company has been working with schools and districts for 20 years and serves nearly 4 million users in all 50 states and the international market. EDmin is best known for the INFORM® Learning System, an enterprise-level platform that integrates assessment, reporting, resource and community capabilities with an academic data warehouse. For more information, please visit http://www.edmin.com.

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Rick Wells
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