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Sept 29 -- The U.S. Census Bureau, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), invites public comments to OMB by October 29, 2021 regarding the Annual Survey of School System Finances.
 
The Census Bureau's collection of school district finance data and associated publications are the most comprehensive sources for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 finance data.

These data are collected from the universe of school districts using uniform definitions and concepts of revenue, expenditure, debt, and assets as defined by Financial Accounting for Local and State School Systems: 2014 Edition. This survey and the Annual Surveys of State and Local Government Finances are conducted as part of the Census Bureau's State and Local Government Finance program. Data collected from cities, counties, states, and special district governments are combined with data collected from local school systems to produce state and national totals of government spending. Local school system spending comprises a significant portion of total government spending. In 2019, public elementary-secondary expenditures accounted for 35 percent of local government spending.

This comprehensive and ongoing time series collection of local education agency finances maintains historical continuity in the state and local government statistics community. Elementary-secondary education related spending is the single largest financial activity of state and local governments. Education finance statistics provided by the Census Bureau allow for analyses of how public elementary-secondary school systems receive and spend funds. Increased focus on education has led to a demand for data reflecting student performance, graduation rates, and school finance policy—all of which are related to the collection of this local education finance data. State legislatures, local leaders, university researchers, and parents increasingly rely on data to make substantive decisions about education. School district finance is a vital sector of the education data spectrum used by stakeholders to form policy and to develop new education strategies.

The revisions, which will be incorporated in the FY 21 collection scheduled for mailing in January 2022, will expand the collection of data items in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to include additional federal assistance funds. In addition to continuing the collection of several data items for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, four new data items will be added for the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP Act). The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA), Public Law 116-260, was enacted on December 27, 2020. CRRSA authorizes $82.00 billion in support for education. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP Act) was enacted in March 2021. Under the ARP Act, $169.46 billion was allocated to the U.S. Dept. of Education to support ongoing state and institutional COVID-19 recovery efforts. The ARP included Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) allocations in the amount of $121.97 billion.

The Census Bureau also plans to modify the expenditure items collecting data on the CARES Act to include expenditures from all COVID-19 federal assistance funds, accounting for the passage of these two laws by Congress. The collection of expenditures for COVID-19 federal assistance funds will also be expanded with two new data items for operation and maintenance of plant support services expenditures, and food services operation expenditures by local education agencies. These two new data items and their definitions exactly match data items collected on the National Public Education Financial Survey, a state-level school finance collection also sponsored by NCES and administered by the Census Bureau.

In addition to these changes, the Census Bureau will also remove two revenue data items from the COVID-19 federal assistance funds section of the survey; the data items collecting revenue amounts for local education agencies for the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund—Rethink K-12 Education Models (ESF-REM) Discretionary Grant and the CARES Act Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV). The finance amounts received by local education agencies for these two grants were minimal or nonexistent, and therefore no longer necessitated the collection of these two data items on the survey.
 
Annual Survey of School System Finances webpage: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html
Annual Survey of School System Finances submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202109-0607-010 Click IC List for forms, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation. Submit comments through this webpage.
FR notice inviting comments to OMB: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/09/29/2021-21191/agency-information-collection-activities-submission-to-the-office-of-management-and-budget-omb-for
 
Point of contact: Stephen Wheeler, Supervisory Survey Statistician, Educational Finance Branch, Economic Reimbursable Surveys Division, Census Bureau  (301) 763-9950     stephen.wheeler@census.gov
 
For AEA members wishing to submit comments to OMB, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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