States That Spend the Most (and the Least) on Education
Plus, where the funding comes from and how it's spent in each state.
Schools in some states receive much larger sums of money -- up to three times more per pupil -- than in other states. Where the money comes from differs, too. And how schools opt to spend their funding varies significantly from state to state.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its Annual Survey of School System Finances, depicting revenues and spending for all public elementary-secondary school systems in 2017.
Here's a breakdown of some highlights:
Spending Per Pupil
Schools in New York spent $23,091 per pupil, the highest tally of any state, followed by the District of Columbia, Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont. That’s the same top five as the year before.
By comparison, spending totaled less than $8,000 per student in Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah.
Numerous factors contribute to these large discrepancies, as we’ve reported previously. Utah, for instance, has the highest proportion of children of any state, so it has less resources to spread among its districts. Along with demographics, costs of living, teacher pay and benefits, class sizes and tax structures all dictate education spending.
|State||Spending Per Pupil||Revenue Per Pupil|
SOURCE: 2017 Annual Survey of School System Finances, Table 11
These numbers won’t reflect more recent funding changes, such as the 19 percent pay raise Arizona teachers are set to eventually receive from legislation passed last year.
Nationally, federal funding accounts for about 8 percent of education funding, while the rest is split nearly evenly between state and local sources.
In Vermont, state funds make up 90 percent of total revenues -- the most of any state.
On the low end, the state government accounts for only about a third of funding in Nebraska, New Hampshire and South Dakota.
Despite the large disparities, these differences don’t correlate with total per pupil funding, at least at the state level.
|State||Federal sources (%)||State sources (%)||Local sources (%)|
|District of Columbia||11.0||89.0|
SOURCE: 2017 Annual Survey of School System Finances, Table 5
How Funding Is Spent
Instruction, which includes teacher wages and benefits, accounts for the majority of elementary-secondary school spending. But just how much varies by state.
In New York, instruction makes up about 70 percent of total spending -- the highest share of any state. The next-highest states are Nebraska (65.3 percent), Minnesota (64.8 percent) and Utah (64 percent).
Alaska and Arizona, by comparison, spent just 54 percent on instruction -- the lowest share nationally.
States like New Hampshire and Vermont tend to spend somewhat more on administrative expenses than other states.
NOTE: Adult education, community services and other nonelementary-secondary program expenditures are excluded. Enrollments for state educational facilities and charter schools whose charters are held by nongovernmental entities are also not reflected in the totals. "Other" spending includes non-personnel related expenses, such as capital outlays and transfer payments to municipal entities.
Changes in Spending
A few states experienced sizable upswings in spending in 2017.
Per pupil spending increased 10 percent over the year in Kansas, the most of any state, followed by D.C., South Dakota and Illinois.
But in seven other states, spending failed to keep pace with inflation: Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Of those, only in Wyoming is school spending relatively high compared to elsewhere. Spending in Oklahoma actually declined nearly 2 percent, according to Census data.
Looking back further, spending in most states has climbed higher. From 2014 to 2017, the largest per pupil increases were in California (26.6 percent), Washington state (17.5 percent) and Illinois (17.3 percent).
|State||2017 Spending||1-year change||3-year change|
|District of Columbia||21,974||8.6%||18.9%|
SOURCE: Census Annual Survey of School System Finances, 2017, 2016, 2014 per pupil current spending data