ESSA and Fiscal Equity

If No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will be remembered as the era of testing and compliance, then the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) may mark the era of equity and flexibility. While dollars aren’t the only factor in the equity equation, ESSA increases transparency and reporting requirements of how districts allocate funds to and across schools.

Fiscal equity is…

  • fundamentally different from fiscal equality.
  • a strategic district goal.
  • measured in fiscal expenditures.
  • answered through a district’s financial system so that actual expenditures can be tracked and reported.
  • analyzed by tying dollars to the level of use (e.g., school, program).

Fiscal equity is fundamentally different from fiscal equality.

  1. Do you provide equal resources to all students, or do you consider the individual needs of your students before funds are distributed? Fiscal equality refers to the equal distribution of resources for all students. Fiscal equity takes into consideration the needs of students before the allocation of resources. Fiscal equity across schools takes into account student characteristics, such as low-income, special education, and English language learner status, as well as school type (elementary, middle, high). In school finance, equity will mean greater resources for some students.

Fiscal equity is a strategic district goal.

  1. In your district, is there a fair distribution of funds to students, independent of community wealth? This is an essential component of district, state, and federal fiscal education policy. While the mechanisms to ensure fair distribution are diverse, the pursuit of equity remains one of the primary goals.

When measuring fiscal equity, actual expenditures to schools must be available.

  1. Does your district use input equity in budgeting to take into consideration the variable needs of your student population? While common, this practice allows for inequitable distribution of dollars, as staff compensation differs across locations. Even with an appropriate allocation of staff members, some schools may receive drastically different dollars than others based on the tenure and experience of the staff allocated.

Fiscal equity is answered through a district’s financial system so that actual expenditures can be tracked and reported.

  1. How are actual expenditures reported? As districts move toward transparency and evaluation at the school level, districts have to piece together financial information from multiple systems and sources to meet reporting requirements. For example, a district typically estimates school expenditures by analyzing human resource and payroll system data for salary levels and staff locations and then estimates the dollars that go to schools.

Fiscal equity requires tying dollars to the level of use (e.g., school, program).

  1. It is common for budgets and expenditures to be tracked at the central office, often to take advantage of economies of scale. But can your district tie its spending directly to the location where the funds are being spent? Evaluation of spending at the school level requires school-level expenditures, while evaluation of programs requires program-level expenditures. These resources should be tagged with the “location” of school/program use whenever possible to ensure they are captured for evaluation of effectiveness and fiscal equity. Accounts and transactions should be coded to the level of use to ensure an accurate understanding of expenditures.

Equity can be measured in many ways, such as access to effective teachers, advanced placement classes, computer equipment, and extra instructional resources. The necessary predecessor for these endeavors is the assessment of student needs and the availability of fiscal resources.

Check out our Education Finance Guide to Understanding ESSA for more.


About the Author


Allovue provides innovative education finance technology solutions to educators nationwide to help them budget, manage, and evaluate school spending. The company also provides districts with supplemental services including funding equity analysis, diagnostic surveys, and financial management training. Allovue’s flagship product, Balance, is an online software platform designed to help K–12 administrators access, understand, and control their financial data.