Oregon’s Opaque K-12 Finances

By William Newell

Before people make financial decisions, most seek out information in order to make better choices. But according to a recent report by the Cato Institute, when Oregon voters are tasked with making financial decisions about K-12 education, they are hard-pressed to find the information they need, let alone interpret what is available.

The report, entitled Cracking the Books, measures financial transparency in K-12 education throughout the nation. In the study, Oregon performed dismally, earning an “F-” and ranking 44th. New Mexico and South Dakota took the top two spots, receiving the only “A’s” for their transparency efforts. Only seven states scored higher than a “C+”. Our West Coast neighbors Washington and California performed well and were rewarded with a “B” and “B-,” respectively.

Of the four categories used to analyze the state’s education financial information, Oregon scored best in public accessibility, with a score of 10.5 out of 15. Alternatively, Oregon failed to earn even half the points available in the transparency categories for per-pupil expenditures, total expenditure data, and average salary data.

Quality, accessible information for voters is essential to making good policy. If Oregon really wants to stand up for transparency and accountability in government, then the state should learn from our neighbors and start with more transparency in its biggest budget item, K-12 education.

William Newell is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He is a graduate of Willamette University.

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