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New database puts education spending at your fingertips

The Department of Education has spent more money this calendar year than any other city agency, racking up enough expenses to account for about a quarter of total city dollars.

That’s one nugget from of a host of financial information now available through a database Comptroller John Liu’s office launched yesterday that gives real-time updates to city expenses.

The database, called “Checkbook NYC,” currently reports around $40 billion in spending across city agencies since January 1. During that time, the Department of Education spent more than $10 billion.

The site lists each city agency’s total spending, then breaks down that total into categories of spending. For the DOE, those categories include central administration spending, general and special education instruction and school leadership, school food and student transportation. From there, users can click through and see each how much the department spent on individual transactions with vendors.

A few other interesting tidbits:

  • The DOE has spent more than $165 million so far on central administration, an area that critics often targets because it’s the least directly tied to students and schools. Since 2008, the DOE has cut the central budget by nearly 20 percent, Chancellor Joel Klein told City Council at a hearing in May.
  • Of the central administrative expenses, $72 million was spent on areas other than employee payroll. The largest individual chunk of that spending was on a category called “other professional services,” which includes vendors who contract on such services as recruiting, high school admissions and parent outreach.
  • The city has also spent nearly $32 million this year so far on professional development and curriculum services, which the database breaks down by school or program.

The comptroller’s site is still a bit buggy. For example, the default view when you first log on automatically shows total city spending at just over $11 billion. That’s far too low to be the city’s total expenditures for the year so far. The correct figure only appeared when I plugged in the correct date ranges for the actual year so far, between January 1 and June 30. The total spending figure over that time is $40.7 billion citywide sum.

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