FILE - Wisconsin charter schools

First-graders listen to teacher Dwane Davis at Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school in Milwaukee.

(The Center Square) – Parents may soon be able to see just how their kids’ school is spending its money.

The Assembly’s Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight held a public hearing on a plan to create a spending transparency portal.

“Spending on K-12 education accounts for over a third of our state budget,” Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, told lawmakers Wednesday. “Our school districts receive funding through a complex web of categorical aids, the school funding formula, and increasingly through referendums. School districts also have a wide array of costs  that many people don’t even think about such as IT, maintenance, administrative positions, and transportation.”

Felzkowski is one of the authors of the plan.

The other, state Rep. Gae Magnifici, R-Dresser, said school districts and the state’s Department of Public Instruction already track all of those costs. But she said there’s no easy way for parents or the public to find it all.

“Many [people] who I’ve talked to get really frustrated when they try to find out information about their school budget,” Magnifici explained. “So they wind-up calling the superintendent or the financial person at the school, and in many cases they never find what they are looking for.”

Magnifici is quick to add that because local schools and DPI already have the information on spending, there’s no additional cost or reporting mandate.

There will be some cost to create the new portal, but that money will come from the legislature.

Parents and advocates say placing all of the state’s school spending information in one, easy to use place will help parents understand when their local schools need money. And when they do not.

Chris Reader, executive vice president of the Institute for Reforming Government, points out that Wisconsin is spending more money than ever before on education, and very few people know where it’s all going.

“There is little accountability on schools for how they spend taxpayer money, and far too many schools are graduating students who cannot read and are ill-equipped for today’s jobs,” Reader told lawmakers. “More transparency in school spending will improve K-12 education in two ways. One, it will help locate and end wasteful and fraudulent spending, and two, it will highlight initiatives that save money and have better student results, which in turn will allow other classrooms to emulate what works.”

A similar plan passed the State Assembly in the last session, but fell short in the Wisconsin Senate. Lawmakers hope for better luck this time around.