We recently had the opportunity to speak with school finance expert and longstanding Edstruments partner Katie Walmsley about her thoughts on the rapidly evolving landscape of K12 finance. For over 3 years, Katie has served as Chief Financial Officer for KIPP New Orleans Schools (“KNOS”), one of the largest public-school networks in the New Orleans area with 5000 students grades PreK-12. Prior to KNOS, she spent several years in leadership positions at Teach For America in New Orleans. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What do you think is the most pressing issue in school finance today?
There are two. One is that we have to protect the public’s dollars by ensuring best-in-class practices and controls to prevent fraud. That includes guard-rails against cyber security threats.
The second piece is that the way schools are funded by sales and property taxes creates large disparities— particularly for communities that have experienced systematic disinvestment by our country’s institutions for far too long, and therefore are socio-economically disadvantaged.
Block grants and other funds are designed to mitigate these disparities, but massive ones remain. Really, we need to be advocating for a completely different national approach to how schools are funded. Low-income communities often need more money, not less, to respond to the needs of students and families. I also believe that many other interconnected social safety net programs should be in place, but that’s a whole separate interview.
School finance professionals have a central role to play in advocating for a more equitable reality. One way is to know our expenses and make sure that financial transactions are coded and accounted accurately so we can compare baselines across schools and communities. Good coding and accounting enable our reports to provide powerful insights that we can use to advocate for legislation and policy that make funding more equitable and responsive to student needs.
For example, in New Orleans, student transportation is often a school operator’s largest non-payroll expense. If some schools serve student populations that rely less heavily on school-provided transportation, that can free up large sums of funding to invest in other elements of our schools – like increasing compensation for our educators and staff, or investing in supports that directly impact the student experience such as the arts, athletics, and wellness.
With the right financial reporting, I think we could have powerful metrics that help provide the basis for real advocacy for a different funding reality. This could empower local communities to realize transformational impacts through thriving public schools.
Edstruments was founded to help public school systems including both traditional school districts and charter schools make the most of their resources on behalf of students. We work with leaders in all roles to empower their decision-making, utilizing principles like those written about in this article. Increase your collaboration, plan multiple scenarios with ease, and deploy your dollars more strategically. Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org today!