Celebrating Sunshine Week: Mackinac Center Launches School Checkbook Transparency Project

Districts should open check registers to taxpayers, analyst says

For Immediate Release
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kenneth M. Braun
Policy Analyst
Dr. Ryan S. Olson
Director of Education Policy

MIDLAND — To mark Sunshine Week, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is launching an initiative that aims to open up the check registers of Michigan’s public school districts and place them in comprehensible form on the Internet. Sunshine Week, which begins March 16, is a national initiative that stresses open government and freedom of information.

The Center will begin contacting Michigan school districts directly to stress the value of spending transparency and to facilitate access to this information, according to Policy Analyst Kenneth M. Braun. The Center will compile a single Web listing for districts that participate.

"Michigan spends about $19 billion a year in local, state and federal tax dollars on public education," said Braun. "That’s quite a significant number when you realize that the state’s total budget is $43 billion. Anything school districts can do to be open about how they spend tax dollars will enhance peoples’ confidence and promote accountability."

The Montrose Community Schools in Genesee County has already provided the model for other districts to follow. Parents, taxpayers, school employees, reporters and anyone else can use that district’s Web site to see how school resources are spent.

"It is admirably open and detailed," Braun said. "We know that Bushey Radiator charged the district $45.50 for repair work, and we can see exactly how much was spent on buns and milk for the cafeteria."

The St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency is an intermediate school district that engages in a comparable level of spending transparency.

Checkbook transparency will join the Mackinac Center’s Michigan School Databases, which already provide revenue, expenditure and collective bargaining agreements for every public school district in the state.

"Last year, we published ‘A Michigan School Money Primer,’ the most comprehensive description of taxation, appropriation and budgeting for Michigan K-12 schools," said Dr. Ryan S. Olson, the Center’s director of education policy. "Along with this primer and our interactive finance database, this new checkbook database will be a helpful tool for media, educators, administrators and residents."

In addition to shedding light on the details of public education spending, it is anticipated that the Web site would save taxpayer dollars by allowing schools to shop for more cost-effective suppliers of goods and services.

"We want taxpayers to know where their money is going, and school districts to find out if they’re getting the best deals on everything from hamburger buns to bus radiators," Braun said. "In the long run, this can only benefit schools. Voters tend to reward good public stewardship."