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Appendix A: Methodology and Technical Notes

Common Core of Data survey system. The State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education, the Local Education Agency Universe Survey, and the Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey are the nonfiscal components of the Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system, while the School District Finance Survey (F-33), the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS), and the Teacher Compensation Survey (TCS) are the fiscal components.The three finance surveys are reported annually by state education agencies (SEAs) through the efforts of state CCD coordinators. Participation in the CCD is voluntary. All states and the District of Columbia reported in the fiscal year (FY) 2008 F-33.

Data for CCD finance surveys are collected from SEAs through an online reporting system. They are then processed, edited, and verified by the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the Education Statistics Services Institute (ESSI) of the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The FY 08 CCD F-33 collection opened on January 15, 2009 and closed on September 30, 2009.

Data quality. Staff at NCES, the U.S. Census Bureau, and ESSI collaborate to edit all CCD data submissions and ask state CCD coordinators to correct or confirm any numbers that appear out of range when compared with other states’ data or with the state’s reports in previous years. If no explanation for anomalous data is provided by the state, NCES will attempt to correct or adjust the data value (e.g., NCES will replace a reported total with the sum of detail in cases where the sum of detail exceeds a reported total).

Fifth percentile, median, and 95th percentile cutpoints. After arranging observations in ascending order, the 5th percentile is a value such that 5 percent of the observations are less than or equal to this value. The 95th percentile is a value such that 5 percent of the observations are greater than or equal to this value. These cutpoints have been chosen to reduce the influence of extreme values that may occur. A median is a number dividing the higher half of a population from the lower half. The median can be found by arranging all the observations from lowest value to highest value and picking the middle one.

Missing data. When reporting totals for a state, if information is missing for more than 20 percent of the school districts, NCES suppresses the totals for that state. When reporting national totals, if information is missing for more than 15 percent of the school districts, NCES suppresses the national totals; if information is missing for no more than 15 percent of the school districts, NCES calculates totals and identifies them as “reporting states” totals (rather than totals for the United States). A “reporting states” total is calculated for federal revenues by program in table 8 in this report, because not all the 50 states and the District of Columbia reported all the specific federal revenues in FY 08. The missing federal revenues are included in “other and unspecified revenues through state” and/or “other revenues direct to school districts” categories.

It is not always possible to determine whether a reported zero represents a missing, not applicable, or a true zero in the F-33 data. In order to determine whether a zero response for a federal revenue data item on the FY 08 F-33 is missing or not applicable, the data are compared to the FY 05 F-33 file. This is the latest file that has been updated with data from the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) data file. Information from this comparison is only applicable to table 8. The GEPA survey collects data on federal revenues directly from school districts, and is conducted every other year. If a specific federal revenue item for a district is zero on the FY 08 F-33, NCES looked at the same item and district on the FY 05 F-33 file. If the FY 05 F-33 file showed the item as zero, then it was assumed to be not applicable for FY 08. If a value greater than zero was found for the item on the FY 05 F-33 file, then the item was assumed to be missing for FY 08.

Regular school districts and charter schools. Regular school districts included in tables 1 through 6 in this report

  • are listed in the CCD Local Education Agency Universe Survey file for school year 2007–08;
  • provide instruction and other education services and do not focus primarily on special education or vocational education; and
  • have student membership greater than zero (because per pupil dollar amounts can not be calculated if a district has zero enrollment).

Charter schools that are not affiliated with a regular school district are treated separately from regular school districts in tables 1 through 6. To be included, these independent charter school districts must be listed in the CCD Local Education Agency Universe Survey file for school year 2007–08, have students, and report revenues and expenditures greater than zero.

Comparability of fiscal data across states. Because the District of Columbia is a single urban district, it is often an outlier in comparisons of revenues and expenditures, with larger revenues and expenditures per student than the median school district in other states. Similarly, Hawaii is a single school district and funds public education primarily through state taxes. Because of this, Hawaii’s data may pose problems of comparability similar to those of the District of Columbia.

Comparing expenditures across districts. District-level analyses and comparisons can be complicated by the variety of administrative structures that exist across the nation in regular school districts. States such as Florida, Maryland, Nevada, and West Virginia have large districts that are coterminous with counties and encompass all levels and types of public schools. School districts in other states may exist in small communities with only one school or in larger communities where all elementary schools are in one school district and all secondary schools are in another. In some states, all special education schools are administered by a few specific districts; in other states, each district may have all kinds of schools and programs. This variety in the types of school districts makes it difficult to compare expenditures across school districts. In seven states, Arizona, California, Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont, less than half of the school districts are unified (i.e., districts that provide both elementary and secondary education services and instruction) (table 4). In two states, Montana and Vermont, less than half of the students attend schools in unified districts.

Total expenditures. Total expenditures used for calculations in this report (tables 2 and 6) are different from the data item for total expenditures (TOTALEXP) in the F-33 data file. Total expenditures in this report exclude payments to private and charter schools, while TOTALEXP in the F-33 data file includes those payments.

Total current expenditures. Total current expenditures used for calculations in this report (tables 2 through 7) are different from the data item for total current expenditures (TCURELSC) in the F-33 data file. Total current expenditures in this report exclude payments to private and charter schools, while TCURELSC in the F-33 data file includes those payments.

Federal range ratio. The federal range ratio is used in this report as an indicator of the difference between districts with relatively high revenues (or expenditures) per pupil and districts with relatively low revenues (or expenditures) per pupil. As used by Berne and Stiefel (1984) and in previous NCES publications (Parish, Matsumoto, and Fowler 1995; Hussar and Sonnenberg 2000), the federal range ratio excludes the top and bottom 5 percent of districts in order to reduce the influence of extreme values. The federal range ratio is the difference between the amount per pupil of the district at the 95th percentile and the district at the 5th percentile divided by the amount for the district at the 5th percentile. For example, a federal range ratio of 1.9 means that 190 percent more was spent per pupil in districts at the 95th percentile than was spent per pupil in districts at the 5th percentile. The calculation for this ratio is:

Where the value equals revenues per pupil or expenditures per pupil.

Fiscal years. The fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on June 30 for most states. The fiscal year for Alabama runs from October 1 through September 30, and the fiscal year for Nebraska and Texas runs from September 1 through August 31. The F-33 data are not adjusted to conform to a uniform fiscal year across states.

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