Bill requires schools to make budgets public

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HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania House on Monday approved legislation requiring the state to create a searchable online database of the revenue and expenses of school districts and charter schools.

The legislation calls for the Department of Education to first post on its website the annual financial reports for each school district, charter school and vocational-technical school. Within a year of the bill becoming law, the agency would have to post the most recent budget of each district or school.

The proposal also calls for the creation of a searchable database of receipts and expenditures, as well as a measure comparing spending to performance, for public schools. Plans for those steps would be developed by an advisory committee made up mostly of school business managers and leaders of the House and Senate education committees.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said it was “an excellent idea” and in line with transparency initiatives pursued by the Senate.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the agency supports transparency with public money but has concerns about the logistics and cost of implementing the database.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials worked with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, and a co-sponsor, Rep. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, to seek a proposal that would “provide transparency without imposing a tremendous additional burden or cost on school districts,” said Hannah Barrick, the group’s director of advocacy.

The bill passed the House 119-81, with all but one Republican member in support.

“Everybody wants to make sure that there’s real accountability and transparency brought to our school districts, in the same manner that we did for the Legislature, the executive branch and its various departments and the judiciary,” said Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.

He compared the proposed website to PennWATCH, an online database of state government spending also pushed for by Mr. Christiana.

Karen Langley: or 1-717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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