Below is an analysis of state spending on K-12 education per pupil for the 2008-2009 school year in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The analysis details how state expenditures interact with other important education indicators, such as student demographics and achievement.
State spending per pupil varies dramatically across the United States.1
Per-pupil spending—which includes funding from federal, state, and local sources—ranged from as little as $6,612 in Utah to as much as $19,698 in the District of Columbia in the 2008-09 school year. The five states with the highest average per-pupil spending—the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Alaska, and Connecticut—averaged $17,045 per student. This amount was over twice that of the five states with the lowest average per-pupil expenditures. These states—Utah , Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Tennessee—averaged just $7,506 per student.
The disparity between states is even more pronounced at the school and classroom levels. The District of Columbia, with the highest average per-pupil expenditure at $19,698, spent over $13,000 more on individual students than Utah at $6,612. Over the course of the school year, a classroom in the District of Columbia with 25 students received an average of $327,150 more than a classroom in Utah, where spending for an average classroom totaled $165,300. For an entire elementary school with an average of 445 students2, the annual difference in spending between Utah and the District of Columbia would be almost $6 million, with Utah spending an average of $2.9 million and the District of Columbia spending $8.8 million. The average District of Columbia high school with 881 students3 would receive $17.4 million, whereas the average high school in Utah with the same number of students would receive $5.8 million, a difference of $11.4 million.
Per-pupil expenditures vary by region.
States in the Northeastern United States had an average per pupil expenditure of $14,762 in 2008-09, significantly more than the rest of the country—on average, $4,451 more per pupil than the Midwest, $4,779 more than the West, and $5,614 more than the South. Eight of the 10 states with the highest average per pupil spending are located in the Northeast. On average, states in the South have an average expenditure of $9,184 per pupil, and states in the West have an average expenditure of $9,983 per pupil. Five of the 10 states with the lowest per-pupil expenditures—Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas—are located in the South. Four are located in the West (Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah), and one is located in the Midwest (South Dakota).4
The two states in the South with the lowest per pupil spending—Oklahoma and Tennessee—each averaged less than $8,000 in spending per pupil, whereas the two states with the highest average expenditure—the District of Columbia and New York—spent over $17,000 per pupil. Although differing regional costs of services may be a contributing factor, it is nonetheless unlikely that schools in the South would be able to provide the same quality of education than schools in the Northeast with substantially fewer resources.
States with higher per-pupil expenditures tend to have higher student achievement (as measured by NAEP).
In general, students in states where average per-pupil spending was the highest in 2008-09 outperformed their peers in states with lower per-pupil expenditures on the National Assessment of Academic Progress (NAEP) tests in 2009. In the 10 states that with the highest spending per pupil, an average of 34 percent of 8th grade students scored proficient in reading on the NAEP and 36 percent scored proficient in math. In the 10 states with the lowest spending per pupil, an average of only 28 percent of 8th grade students scored proficient in reading and 31 percent scored proficient in math.
States with lower per pupil expenditures tend to have higher levels of student poverty.
Generally, states with lower average per-pupil expenditures have higher student poverty rates. In states where poverty levels are high, tax revenues are typically lower, which can translate into lower per-pupil expenditures. In the five states with the highest per-pupil spending, an average of 16 percent of students were living in poverty. In comparison, an average of 24 percent of students were living in poverty in the five states with the lowest per-pupil spending.
- 1. Statewide per-pupil expenditure for this analysis includes the total current expenditures for public elementary and secondary education divided by the fall student membership as reported in the state finance file. The expenditures for equipment, non-public education, school construction, debt financing, and community services are excluded. These data are from the Common Core of Data (CCD) National Public Education Financial Survey for school year 2008-09.
- 2. National Center for Education Statistics 2009 http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010305/tables/table_05.asp?referrer=report
- 3. National Center for Education Statistics, 2009 http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010305/tables/table_05.asp?referrer=report
- 4. Regions: Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hamphshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont. Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin. South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia. West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.