HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Education’sSchoolWATCH database, launched in January 2015, allows parents, students and taxpayers for the first time to easily track and compare school district and charter school spending.
Gov. Tom Wolf approved House Bill 1606 Thursday, making that database a permanent fixture in the Public School Code.
SchoolWATCH and its predecessor, searchable government spending database PennWATCH, provide the public with access to information on about $60 billion in state spending each year, bill author Rep. Jim Christiana, R-15, Brighton Township said.
The state’s public schools spend almost $30 billion in federal, state and local dollars each year, about the equivalent of Pennsylvania’s general fund budget.
“The citizens paying the bills deserve to know where their money is being spent,” Christiana said. “Giving the public and the media access to this information is a commonsense transparency booster that will support better decision making.”
SchoolWATCH is modeled after PennWATCH, a publicly accessible database of Pennsylvania’s state government spending and employee salaries the state launched in 2012.
Christiana originally introduced SchoolWATCH legislation in April 2013, which passed in the House as a component of an education reform bill in September 2014, but fizzled in the Senate.
The education department then decided to develop the database and launch the program with existing funds. When the database initially debuted in early 2015, Christiana promised to introduce legislation that would codify SchoolWATCH and steel it from potential political challenges in Harrisburg.
SchoolWATCH includes information for 500 public school districts, 176 charter schools, 14 cyber charter schools, 73 career and technical centers and 29 intermediate units.
The bill also increases the amount of tax credits available for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program from $100 million to $125 million. The Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs are designed to give students in the state’s lowest-performing school districts a path out.
SchoolWATCH data is available on the School Performance Profile website, www.paschoolperformance.org. Site visitors can view school revenue, expenditures and fund balance information, teacher salaries and annual financial reports – data school districts are already required to submit to the department of education.
To access the data, choose a county and district to search, select the “View District Information” on the “Find a School” page, and then click the “View Fiscal Information.” Users can also use a comparison feature to compare spending for up to three districts.