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New Bills Push for School Spending Transparency

Legislation proposed by state Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) would require the Pennsylvania Department of Education to create an online database where people could search the state’s public schools’ finances.

House Bills 1411 and 1412, known as SchoolWATCH and CharterWATCH, would create an online system similar to PennWATCH, a state website with information on government spending in Pennsylvania.

Christiana said every public school’s expenditures, including charter and cyber schools, would be searchable online.

“I believe that it’s responsible for government to disclose in an easy to use fashion where we’re spending dollars,” Christiana said. “And we can do it by embracing technology.”

Christiana said they are currently working to amend the bill to include privacy safeguards. They would create a single line item for personnel pay, instead of listing individual teachers and school employees. School administrators will have their salaries linked to their names though.

He said it’s important that school information be available because federal and state spending on education is roughly equal to the entire state budget.

“It’s about $28 billion a year of public resources from Washington (D.C.), Harrisburg, and local property taxes that contribute,” Christiana said.

The 2013-2014 Pennsylvania state budget is about $27.7 billion with state spending on the Department of Education totaling at $10.3 billion, without federal aid.

Christiana said he doesn’t yet know how much creating the database would cost but expects it to be no more than when PennWATCH was built. He said that website didn’t require the state to hire any extra personnel or spend any money outside of the budget.

The bills are currently in the House Committee on Education. Christiana said there’s no firm timeline on voting or implementation yet, but expects the database to be in place within the “next couple of years.”