Sunny news for National Sunshine Week

Some years ago when it became clear that the best way to understand increased school spending was not by looking at pie charts and bar graphs, but rather check registers, the first stumbling block was how? For the average mom and dad to file a public records request each month then wait some months to receive checks generally represented a considerable cash outlay by folks who stood no chance of ever recouping their money. A solution occurred in the most natural possible way: Most school districts switched to online banking, which meant the checks were already on the Internet.

But even though the cost to post checks online was no longer an issue for most school leaders, there was still another factor to deal with, the great unknown. Superintendents and board members wondered aloud, how would the public react?

For this reason, when we started a small grassroots movement with the goal of persuading school districts to post their check registers online, most folks wouldn't have given us the proverbial snowball's chance; after all, in October 2006 only a handful of districts were posting their checks online in a handful of states.

With the nation celebrating Sunshine Week this week, it's good to be able to report that administrators and school boards are embracing this important step towards transparency; there are now more than 800 districts -- double the total from just a year ago -- posting their check registers on their Web sites in 36 states including all of Alabama and Delaware.

At least two districts in Connecticut are online (Oxford Public Schools and Trumbull Public Schools), with more on the way.

The largest district posting in the U.S. is Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida; with a recent budget topping $6.8 billion they spent more than many state school systems. Trustee Martz Perez, who went from being a 1-8 transparency vote advocate to now board vice chair, said last week, "I am proud of the role I played in furthering transparency in Miami-Dade County Public Schools and hope that other school districts follow suit. The online check register fosters good and ethical government and taxpayers deserve nothing less."

One of the smaller districts posting is Marble Falls ISD in the Texas Hill Country just north of Austin; their district embraced financial transparency early on, in December 2006. Says superintendent Ryder Warren, "Since we began posting our check registry for MFISD, I have not received one comment and/or question concerning it from our community members. As a general statement about our school district, I am still very impressed with this school board's vision of the need for the utmost transparency in both our financial and our academic programs."

This snowball has legs. But beyond transparency per se, vital as that is for a free society, everybody benefits from being able to see specific-dollar spending, including students and teachers -- and the moms and dads and taxpayers footing the bill for America`s locally governed public schools.

Since Texas journalist/school activist Peyton Wolcott founded the nation's grassroots school district online check register transparency movement on Oct.1, 2006, she continues to network with transparency-seekers across America; her Web site is www.peytonwolcott.com.