School leaders, national and state policy makers, and other education stakeholders now can tap into a new online, interactive database to find out how the nation spends the estimated $350 billion earmarked each year for education.

The Education Finance Database, produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), is a free web resource that allows users to learn about and compare each state’s educational finance system.

Although the site is intended to be used by legislators, legislative staff, and other researchers, school officials also can access the information contained within the database to learn how their own states or other states and school systems operate.

“Legislators and legislative staff want to know what options are available when considering education finance policies,” said NCSL Education Policy Specialist Steve Smith. “Our goal was to provide the information in an easy-to-understand format.”

Using the web-based database, school officials can answer questions such as: How many states collect local sales taxes for education purposes? Which states fund education with lottery revenues? How many states had school finance litigation last year? Which states spent the most on school technology?

According to Smith, the main function of the database is to explain the different revenue structures and distribution systems that exist across the country.

“K-12 education is a $350 billion industry,” Smith said. “There’s just not a lot of people [who] know how it works.”

For each state, the database offers information about local taxing methods, tax and spending limits, tax credits and exemptions, earmarked state revenue, foundation program information, recent school finance litigation, and more.

Visitors also can compare spending on individual issues—such as special education or technology—across all states.

The database currently contains information for the 2001-02 school year only, but this summer NCSL staff members plan to add data for 2002-03 as well, Smith said. The group also hopes to feature more quantitative data beyond just per-pupil spending. “That’s the beauty of the web. It’ll forever expand,” he said.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly produces reports on education finance, but these reports often are out of date when they are released and difficult to search through. Last year, NCES issued PDF files for each state, but you still couldn’t compare the data and it was still too old, Smith said. NCSL’s online database automates the process.

The web site is available in two different formats to accommodate slower internet connections. The Flash version is more dynamic and allows for more advanced queries. It features an interactive map of the United States, and when you scroll across the different states on the map, it shows their per-pupil spending and enrollment figures.

For queries, when you scroll over the different terms used in your search—such as local sales tax or lottery revenues—the map lights up accordingly. For instance, if 14 states use lottery revenues to fund education, when you scroll over the words “lottery revenue,” those 14 states would appear highlighted.

You can also click on each highlighted state to read the details of its rules concerning the search term. Smith said NCSL plans to add contact information for each state so users can call to have more specific questions answered.

All 50 state legislatures belong to NCSL, which is an information clearinghouse organization.

Links:

National Conference of State Legislatures: Education Finance Database http://www.ncsl.org/programs/educ/ed_finance/intro.htm