JACKSON - A new website will allow Mississippi taxpayers to see how their money is spent by their local school districts.
Forest Thigpen, President of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said SeeTheSchoolSpending.org, tracks changes in spending over the past 20 years at the state and district level.
"This site will allow Mississippians to see how the districts' priorities have changed over time, based on where they are focusing their spending," said Thigpen. For example, 20 years ago, teacher salaries made up 41 percent of total spending statewide. Today, it makes up only 33 percent. What this means is that the increases in funding have gone to things other than teacher salaries."
Visitors to the site can compare their own district to other districts they choose, finding where their district spends more than other districts in certain categories, and less in others. Thigpen said school boards can use this tool not only to track their own progress over time but also to find other districts they could learn from that might be more efficient in certain areas.
Another capability of the site is to see how different categories relate to each other. For instance, a link on the home page leads to a "rankings" table that shows spending-per-student matched against the accountability grades for districts.
Thigpen said this table, when sorted by district spending levels, "shows clearly that almost all of the highest-scoring districts spend the least per student, and almost all of the lowest-scoring districts spend the most.
If spending more money led to greater results, none of these highest-spending districts would be performing so poorly," Thigpen said.
The statistics on the site were compiled directly or indirectly from the State Department of Education. Most are from the Annual Reports of the State Superintendent of Education, starting with the 1992-93 school year. Others were calculated by MCPP from the data in those reports.
Search results can be e-mailed to others or posted on Facebook or other social media, because each search produces a unique URL, or web address.
Thigpen said the site is in "beta" form for now, meaning there are bugs to fix and additional data to add. For instance, the site works better in browsers other than Internet Explorer, such as Firefox or Google Chrome. He said he welcomes suggestions to make the site more useful.
This new site expands MCPP's work to increase transparency in government spending. Its award-winning website, SeeTheSpending.org, provides transaction-level detail of state and county spending. It is searchable by spending category or vendor name.
"We believe America's Founders were right when they said that the legitimate power of government comes from the consent of the governed," said Thigpen. "But in order to exercise that power appropriately, 'the governed' need to know what their government is doing. SeeTheSpending.org and SeeTheSchoolSpending.org are powerful tools to help people see how their government is spending their hard-earned money."
The Mississippi Center for Public Policy is an independent, non-profit organization based in Jackson. It works to advance the ideals of free markets, limited government, and strong traditional families. Its work, including SeeTheSchoolSpending.org, is supported by voluntary, tax-deductible contributions. It receives no funds from government agencies for its operations.