Per pupil spending by school district in the United States

At the end of March, the Hoboken school board voted to increase taxes by 4 percent to pay for the school budget, which spends $23,716 per student, the second highest in the state of New Jersey. It struck me how much school spending has changed since I went to school, when wealthier districts consistently spent more on education than poor districts. In New Jersey, for example, the state kicks in money to help raise the performance of 31 poor communities.

I got to wondering what per pupil spending is across the nation and how it varies with income and achievement. As a first step, I wanted to calculate per pupil spending in each district throughout the United States. The Census Bureau publishes a table of per pupil spending in districts over 10,000 students. (See Table 17 in Public Education Finances: 2010 — published in June 2012). But that threshold is too high to look at spending in the nation’s wealthiest districts with fewer students, such as Scarsdale, NY with 4718 students or Beverly Hills, CA with 4943 students.

A U.S. census statistician directed me to a data set from FY 2010 (http://www.census.gov/govs/school/) that lists the total current spending for elementary, middle and high school students in each school district in the United States. From this figure, I subtracted the funds that school districts pay out to private and charter schools and then divided by the number of children enrolled in each school district. (If you want to try this at home: [TCURELSC – V91 – V92]/V33.)

The data are even messier than I expected because not all school districts are the same sort of beasts that run schools and educate kids. More than a thousand of the 14,449 districts showed zero students enrolled in them. Half of these zero-pupil districts are Educational Service Agencies (ESAs), which handle administrative functions and teacher training for regions. There are also non-operating rural school districts which have suffered from depopulation and haven’t formally shut down. Or brand new school districts that haven’t enrolled any kids yet.

Once I filtered out districts without kids, the range in spending was crazy. At the top was the East Metro Integration District surrounding St. Paul, Minnesota. It apparently spent $342,500 on each of its 32 students. But I’m not sure why it has any enrolled students since the entity’s mission is to foster racial diversity in 10 different school districts that enroll thousands and thousands of children.

Supposedly, at the bottom was the Spencer Valley Elementary School District in California. The data show it spent less than $679 on each of its 2,266 students. But I don’t think the thriftiest person in the universe could educate a child that cheaply. Furthermore, the district’s website boasts a 6-to-1 student-teacher ratio, iPads for kindergarteners and Macbooks for the upper grades.

Perhaps there’s a basic data entry error with Spencer Valley. But how can I simply narrow this list of school districts down to ordinary ones that educate public school students within defined geographical boundaries? I began by filtering out school districts that enroll fewer than 200 students. Rising to the top were “special” districts that serve and provide support to children with special needs. At the top of the list was Santa Barbara County in California, where per pupil spending runs more than $84,000 per student for 701 special needs children.

Next I filtered out districts with the word “special” in them. Again, the districts rising to the top did not seem like conventional school districts. Five of the highest spending districts on my screen had the word “vocational” in them. Number 1 was the Los Angeles County Office of Education. I have no idea what that is. It has fewer than 9,000 students enrolled and I can see that it’s not the Los Angeles Unified School district, listed separately with 670,000 students.

This is my top 10…

U.S. school districts with the highest spending per student for fiscal year 2010. Excludes districts with fewer than 200 students and that exclusively support special needs students.

 

School District

State

No of students

Spending per student

LOS ANGELES CO OFF OF EDUCATION

CA

8918

$74,087

POCANTICO HILLS CTL SCH DIST AT N TARRYTWN

NY

290

$62,772

OCEAN COUNTY VOCATIONAL SCHOOL

NJ

399

$59,449

SOMERSET COUNTY VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS

NJ

314

$48,465

LAKE AND PENINSULA BOROUGH SCHOOLS

AK

387

$42,527

HUDSON COUNTY VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS

NJ

1292

$39,174

YUKON FLATS REG ED ATTENDANCE AREA (REAA)

AK

281

$38,263

ISLAND PARK UNION FREE SCHOOL DIST

NY

681

$36,896

MONTAUK UNION FREE SCH DIST 6

NY

313

$36,134

PARK CO SCH DIST RE 2

CO

605

$35,554

 

At the moment, I feel stuck. The school district structure has gotten so complicated that it’s really hard to compare spending per student throughout the country. Some districts include the amounts they spend on special education, some districts separate them out into special districts. There are regional and statewide districts that pool resources together to reduce overhead costs. But those teacher training and back-office expenses should still be factored in for the students they benefit.

I was also hoping to show per pupil spending throughout the nation on a map. Districts that spend the most would be in the darkest colors. Those that spend the least in the lightest colors. But I couldn’t find a publicly available school district map. I did find this terrific new school district map of the United States developed by Blue Raster and Sanametrix for the National Center for Education Statistics. But there isn’t a KML version of the map that the public can use to overlay our own data on it.


POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON April 16, 2013

Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Post a Comment

ceolaf

1) Yeah. Vocation education programs are really expensive.

2) You want to make sure you are only including k12 spending and k12 students.

Some districts have adult programs. You do not want to include that spending the in numerator.

3) There also problem of comparing k12 districts to k3 districts. In some areas, different grade levels are actually different districts. (Crazy, I know.)

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more problems there, too.

Peter Coleman

HI DOE has so many flaws that I hesitate to say anything as I wind down my teaching career of at least 20 years. When one has to hurdle over the maze of education here, one is never amazed that Superintendent of Education is not an educator, but a lawyer.
And I could mention volumes.
I loved the work and the good and the bad that flowed into the mix, but I should have retired years ago. Unfortunately, I put the kids first without a healtyy enough self-regard.
I might have been considered as the Teacher of the Fear except that Peter Hernandez made me laugh so much that I learned to laugh at myself more.

Cheryl

Hi! I was searching the internet to find information / calculate how much we as parents who put 3 children through private school actually SAVED our school district (during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s). Your page came up in the search, and I am writing to ask about something you said in the 3rd paragraph: “From this figure, I subtracted the funds that school districts pay out to private and charter schools ”

I was totally unaware that school districts PAID OUT funds to private schools. I maybe missed something here, so I’m wondering.. could you please point me to where/ how I’d go about getting our public school district to pay for/towards my grandchildren’s private school education.
Kindest Regards

Jill Barshay

@Cheryl — Generally, the funds that school districts pay out to private schools are for children with special needs. Often, it’s because the district cannot provide the special services that the student needs in the public school system. I also wonder if there are additional public funds that private schools can access if they have a high enough percentage of low-income children. Something for me to research!

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