Friday, May 24, 2013

U.S. Public Schools: Unequal Spending Across States

Mark Dixon of the U.S. Census Bureau has authored  Public Education Finances: 2011. The headline finding is that in 2011, per capita spending on K-12 education declined. The drop was a small one, only about 0.4%, but it's also the first and only drop in the last 40 years. It's yet another symptom of how brutal the Great Recession and its aftermath have been for state and local finances.

But the other pattern that especially jumped out at me from the report is the difference in what is spent per student across states--a difference that has been large for a long time. Here's a map:

For the U.S. as a whole, average public school K-12 current spending per student was $10,560 in 2011, with 61% of that going to "instruction," and 35% going to "support services." 

But four jurisdictions--New York, Wyoming, Alaska, and the District of Columbia--spend more than $16,000 per K-12 student, with New York leading the way at $19,076 per student. Conversely, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma,and Mississippi spend less than $8,000 per student, with Utah having the lowest tally at $6,212 per student. That is, New York spends on average three times as much per K-12 student as does Utah.

It would of course be a vulgar error to assume that high spending is what's important in K-12 education, when what actually matters is how the students achieve. Spending on education will reflect factors like the local cost of living, the extent of poverty and special needs in the state, and the legacy of past negotiations with the teachers' unions. Still, the discrepancies in what states spend is striking.