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Indiana Updates School Spending Dashboard for Transparency

Developers of the newly updated website say it will provide more transparency on how the state’s school districts are spending COVID-19 relief funds, and eventually how it relates to student outcomes.

Indiana’s new ESSER dashboard shows how districts are using federal relief funds.
As K-12 schools devote federal COVID-19 relief funds to needs such as addressing learning loss that followed from virtual instruction, the Indiana Department of Education is working to be more transparent about how districts use their funds through a publicly accessible online dashboard.

To help fill in parents and other education stakeholders, the tech company Resultant recently partnered with Indiana education officials to update the state’s online COVID-19 relief fund dashboard for more public transparency. According to an email from the company, the tool now shows more granular information on how schools are using their portion of the $122 billion in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds awarded to schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

Curt Merlau, director of education practice at Resultant, said the update comes as the deadline for obligating their funds looms. He said the tool helps to demonstrate the relationship between school spending and student outcomes.

“The dashboard was created to give an accurate depiction of the funds that have been allocated from the series of ESSER grants, and the dashboard we created in Microsoft Power BI shows that down to the level of the school corporation and to the categories of funding that are reported out,” he said. “It’s accessible by anyone to go and look ... The first round of dollars has to be [obligated] by September 2022, so there’s a lot of interest in understanding, ‘OK, schools received this huge amount of dollars to support learning in their communities, so what have they done with it?’”

According to a news release from the state, the updated dashboard shows COVID-19 federal relief grant fund reimbursements as part of schools’ locally developed spending plans, which are focused on student learning. Officials said grant allocations and reimbursements from the three rounds of federal ESSER funding, as well as competitive grants that were awarded to schools from federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding, will be reflected in the dashboard.

Merlau noted that while there is no federal requirement for such a resource as of this week, Indiana was among the first states months ago to provide a publicly accessible dashboard on ESSER funding.

He said he expects more states to launch similar resources in the months to come as parents, educators, district leaders and other education stakeholders ask for more transparency on funding.

“States like Indiana took it upon themselves to provide this publicly available dashboard for transparency’s sake and inform local decision-making about what to do with those funds,” he said, adding that it reflects funds used to support classroom instruction, support services for students, district operations and facilities, among other uses.

“It’s going to continue to be a trend [for people] to want to see this [transparency] with funding. I don’t think it’s one of those that’s going to go away after COVID-19 either,” he added.

Merlau said he believes it’s critical for schools to be transparent about federal relief fund uses for public input on how they should be used.

“In my personal opinion as a parent with children in an Indiana school corporation, I think it’s important to show transparently how our leaders are investing these dollars and how we’re stewarding them, not only for the immediate needs that are there at the local level but to begin to understand what gains, improvements and outcomes we’re able to achieve with this unprecedented layer of funding,” he said. “Those results will come with time.”

According to the state, $2.8 billion in federal funding has been allocated to local school districts across Indiana, with more than $735 million in school expenditures reimbursed so far.

“Local education leaders are working hard to invest these dollars intentionally and strategically. The impactful investment of these funds continues to drive student learning, educator support, sustainable innovation, and updates to technology and infrastructure that may promote success of our Indiana students,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said in a public statement.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.