Using a Uniform Chart of Accounts to Invest Intelligently

August 22, 2013 • Invest Intelligently

This summer, we’re looking at best practices within each of our six policy recommendation areas. We’ve taken a look at the need to demand accountability at the state level; the need to foster leadership in our districts and schools; ideas for developing an excellent teacher talent pool; and strategies to raise expectations for our students.

This week, let’s talk about how we can invest intelligently in our education system.

If you were going to invest your money into several programs in different school districts wouldn’t you want to know, dollar for dollar, which programs were doing the best job?

Right now, Connecticut taxpayers are spending billions of dollars on education in districts across the state, but they have no way of knowing which programs are doing the best job of educating our students.

The reason for this is that all of our public school districts track their expenses in their own ways, so there is no way to compare expenditures and learn lessons from each other. Consequently, there’s no way to invest intelligently.

One way to fix this problem is by establishing a Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA) for public schools in Connecticut. This would allow us to track district- and school-level financial data in a comparative way.

Governor Malloy’s 2012 education reform package did include a requirement for the creation of a UCOA for our schools and districts. Moreover, the UCOA envisioned by the bill would have linked financial data and qualitative data, such as student achievement data, student/teacher ratios, and teacher and leader qualifications and effectiveness. The idea is to “enhance accountability”—as the Governor’s administration put it—by comparing our investments and our results.

Indeed, to be useful to education policy, the UCOA will need to be more than just a report of school-level financial data. Banks of numbers lack true power unless they are tied to accountability measures such as student achievement. By tying the UCOA to qualitative data, we gain the ability to ask and answer the question, “Does increasing this funding improve student performance?”

For an example of an effective UCOA, take a look at Rhode Island. Theirs is integrated into a much larger data set that includes measures of student performance, teacher quality, and building maintenance.

Currently, Connecticut has a UCOA Advisory Committee that is working on developing a UCOA for the state. We urge the UCOA Advisory Committee to include both financial and qualitative data in CT’s new UCOA so that we can begin to invest intelligently in our education system.