May 2013                                                                                    

Table of Contents
PARCA Aids Birmingham City Schools
College Interns Working and Learning with PARCA
PARCA Friends on the Move

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Greetings from PARCA!


Summer is starting, and PARCA is in full speed.
I hope as you prepare for vacations and relaxation, that you continue to follow The PARCA Perspective. We are working on several major projects that you will be hearing about in the coming months.
Some of our current research initiatives can be read in the articles below. As always, we continue in our mission to improve state and local government in Alabama.
Jim Williams
Executive Director

PARCA Aids Birmingham City Schools


PARCA Rolls Out Financial Analysis Software to Aid Birmingham City Schools


Birmingham City Schools are now using new software designed by PARCA that cuts through the clutter of school financial data and enables school officials to Bhm School Logoproduce timely and targeted information for decision makers. 


The development of the software began three years ago thanks to a grant made by PARCA board member Ruffner Page. The PARCA-developed tool imports data produced by the standard accounting system used by schools across the state.


Money flows into school systems from a variety of sources and often that money can only be spent for specific purposes.

A complex accounting system follows that money but the complexities of its inflows and outflows make it difficult to understand and budget effectively. Imported into PARCA's software, the school financial data is far more accessible for analysis and reporting.


By making choices in a series of drop-down menus, a user can zero in on particular categories of expenditure, like electricity or kindergarten instruction for instance. Those costs can be examined on a comparative basis across all schools or for a custom list of schools. Depending on the expenditure in question, cost could be calculated on a per student, per employee, or per square-foot basis. The new system should enable school officials to better monitor current spending and also to track trends in spending over time.


PARCA is continuing to work with the Birmingham system to devise regular reports that answer to the needs of administrators and board members. The new system should also make it much easier to produce special reports in response to specific inquiries.


Birmingham City School board member Brian Giattina, an alumnus of the PARCA Roundtable, has been a leading supporter of the development of the new system. He believes it can give the Birmingham Board toward a much clearer, fact-based analysis of state of the school system.


"The board is trying to become data-driven," Giattina said. "This should be a powerful tool for the Board."


College Interns Working and Learning with PARCA


This spring, Samford senior Austin Storms completed PARCA's first internship collaboration with the AustinSamford's Geography Department. In addition to the traditional geography major, Samford's  department offers training and certification in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a discipline that pairs mapping with data.


Storms' worked to help PARCA move toward mapping the wealth of data on state and local government generated by PARCA. Storms mapped PARCA data tracking local property tax rates for public schools in Alabama. He also gathered organized and displayed information from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S Department of Education, mapping high school graduation rates and charting the correlation between educational attainment and personal income.  


Clarissa Donaldson, a Samford University Brock Scholar, will be presenting researchClarissa she conducted on First Class Pre-K during an internship with PARCA at the Southern Economic Association's annual meeting in Tampa this fall. 


PARCA is working with the Department of Children's Affairs' Office of School Readiness to measure the effectiveness of the state's First Class Pre-K programs. PARCA has been working with data on Pre-K participation with student test scores on the Alabama Reading and Math Test beginning in third grade. 


Donaldson approached the same question, working with Jeremy Thornton, an associate professor in the Brock School of Business, and PARCA's Research Coordinator Joe Adams. Donaldson described the experience as "a crash course in what it's like to conduct data analysis."


She learned to use Stata - an advanced statistical analysis software - to arrive at her results and then had to turn the complex mathematics into an easy-to-understand presentation. Her work showed that participation in Pre-K corresponds with significantly better performance on the third grade tests of reading and math, though the detectable effect of Pre-K participation fades in subsequent grades. However, Donaldson's analysis also detected a notable upward bounce in the performance of Pre-K kids on the sixth grade ARMT in comparison to their fellow students.


It's a rare distinction for undergraduate work to be presented at a conference that draws the region's top scholars. Donaldson, 19, has just completed her sophomore year.


The Brock Scholars is an interdisciplinary honors program which allows students to craft their own course of study. Donaldson said she was pleased "to be able to research a project of this caliber" that has real world policy implications.


PARCA Friends on the Move


PARCA Roundtable Members Making a Difference M. Lynch


The PARCA Roundtable was created in 1998 to provide young business and civic leaders in Alabama with a forum for discussion about good government in a nonpartisan, information-rich environment.


Since it's inception, many Roundtable members and alumni have made major impacts in our state.


This month we are spotlighting two of those members - Sarah Louise Smith, Executive Director of Impact Alabama; and Managing Director of Project Horseshoe Farm, Michael Lynch.


Read more about these two change-makers and their organizations here.