As measured in total funding or in number of people employed, education is the largest policy arena for state and local governments, with growing interest at the federal level. Therefore, the potential value of data on education is enormous.
The demand of policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels for high-quality, useful data and outcome measures to evaluate fiscal and programmatic policy changes drives the need for data systems to become increasingly comprehensive. For example, the financial reports of state and local education agencies are used to compare actual financial results with legally adopted budgets; to assess financial conditions and results of operations; to assist in determining compliance with finance-related laws, rules, and regulations; to assist in evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of processes; and in planning.
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) defines financial reporting as the means of communicating financial information to users (GASB Statement 1, Paragraph 32). For this communication to be effective, financial information must have the following basic characteristics:
These standards imply wide uses of data and require carefully designed policies to help guide decisions about control over the use of an information system. Some policies are codified in laws or regulations; others are official statements, executive orders, or agency directives. Government policies on information systems are guided by two complementary, but sometimes conflicting, purposes: stewardship and usefulness. Stewardship encourages policies that regard government information as a public good, such as personal privacy and records management, whereas usefulness promotes policies that encourage the dissemination of information to improve the quality and lower the cost of government services, such as public access and interagency information sharing. Stewardship policies address confidentiality, information security, data quality and integrity, and long-term preservation of information. Usefulness policies address interagency and intergovernmental sharing, public access, public-private information partnerships, and reuse of information.
Further, technological advancements such as the Internet have made policy issues concerning data appropriateness, privacy and ethics as they relate to data availability (e.g., individual student and staff records) more apparent and more difficult for education information systems to provide high quality data that are useful to both the general public and policymakers.