As newspapers nationwide commemorate “Sunshine Week,” we want to highlight the need for more government transparency in your neighborhood school’s spending. Making state and local government spending information more readily available to taxpayers has long been a goal of the Foundation.

Rep. Mark Strama has filed HB 1314, which requires Texas public school districts and charter school districts to post detailed quarterly financial statements prominently on their websites. HB 1314 has been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

This and similar legislation will improve public awareness of the cost of education by providing taxpayers access to a wealth of information without having to file an open records request. This bill also encourages more informed public debate at school board meetings and PTA meetings, and has the potential to increase efficiencies and reduce the cost of public education.

The cost per Texas student has almost doubled over the last 11 years – growing from $5,282 per student in 1995-96 to $10,162 in 2006-07 – with little to show for it in student achievement gains and high dropout rates in many urban schools. As property taxes – the primary form of financing public schools – continue to increase and burden Texas homeowners, taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent by their local schools.

Information and technology continues to revolutionize the way we live, think, access information, and govern. These changes enable greater access and visibility of financial information to taxpayers.

Moving forward, taxpayers deserve to see school districts post online their check registers and the details of all contracts for goods and services, including the winning and losing bids. It is vital that taxpayers have the ability to see where their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, and we hope HB 1314 and other state and local government transparency bills will become law.

– Brooke Terry