Project Nickel Enhances Education Transparency

Project Nickel is a tool that makes it easy for parents and policymakers alike to understand how much is spent per student at a school by bundling together the most informative statistics and making it easy to compare schools on the factors that really matter to parents. This information provided by Project Nickel allows parents to make informed decisions about their children’s education.

Up until 2015, states were only required to report average per-pupil spending at the district level. After the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, however, states are required to report each school’s per-student expenditure. Project Nickel’s search feature reveals that in 2019, Williwaw Elementary in Anchorage spent a staggering $26,336 per studentand Winterberry School spent $12,959 per student – less than half that of Williwaw. Romig Middle School spends approximately the same per student as the national average, at $14,184 per student.  

Why is Williwaw Elementary spending nearly twice the national average per student? Does a child’s education really cost $26,000 every year?

Then, consider the costs of schools in Bristol Bay, a rural community. Bristol Bay Middle/High School spends an astonishing $47,172, while Naknek Elementary spends $44,010 per student. In comparison, Bristol Bay Correspondence school spends $10,480 per student, below the national average and $36,700 less than Bristol Bay’s in-person schooling options. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that Bristol Bay Middle/High School serves 45 students, while Bristol Bay Correspondence School only serves 7.

Bristol Bay Middle/High School costs $2.1 million per year. Bristol Bay Correspondence School costs $73,360. 

Project Nickel helps answer questions such as: How is funding being distributed between schools? How does your child’s school spending compare to the national average of $14,300 per student for the school year 2017-2018? Project Nickel helps parents and policymakers determine whether funds are being spent wisely – as more funding does not always mean a better education for students.

Project Nickel is innovative because it gathers spending statistics together with demographics and teacher information, which are not often presented all in one place. Presenting the information together gives parents an idea of whether their funds are being spent wisely, and provides a good starting point for parents making critical decisions about their children’s education. This is especially relevant during the pandemic, which has left some parents dissatisfied with online learning and school closures for more than a year.  

Project Nickel aligns with APF’s work to promote smart funding of students instead of institutions and demand better outcomes for Alaskan students. Alaska Policy Forum supports further transparency in school spending, as well as transparency in the crucial factors that parents use to guide their children’s future. Though knowing how much is spent per student is a good start toward transparency, knowing how funds are being spent will help teachers, parents, and taxpayers put funds toward the best use in producing better outcomes for students in Alaska.