New York First in School Spending


When it comes to school spending, New York leads all other states, according to a Census Bureau report on public education released March 11.

Differences in state spending per student are influenced by average teacher salaries and student-teacher ratios. The Census figures, used to compare spending in school districts of similar size, are also important because they fuel the debate over whether student achievement and school spending are linked.

The report showed that the national median of per pupil spending was $7,284 in 2001, a 6.6 percent increase the previous year. But the report reflects data two years old, before states felt the effects of recession and budget crunches.

"It's good news, but it's good news from the past. The bad news is happening today," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a non-profit public education advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. "What you're seeing is the last major increase in education spending for quite a while."

New York spent $10,922 per student in 2001, outdoing second-ranked New Jersey by $29.

Connecticut, Alaska and Massachusetts also were big spenders in 2001, at more than $9,000 per pupil. Also top-ranked were Rhode Island, $8,775; Vermont, $8,706; and Delaware, $8,603.

Utah spent the least per student, $4,625, followed by Arizona, $5,100; Mississippi, $5,179; Idaho, $5,616, and Tennessee, $5,622.

Kathy Christie, vice president for the clearinghouse at Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based organization made up of state officials from various levels of the education system, said: "I'm amazed by the spread across the states in per pupil spending. That's not minor. It can't all be cost of living."

How much a state spends per student can vary widely state-to-state because of geographic differences in wages, costs, and legislative priorities. For example, hiring the same teacher in Alabama is cheaper than in New York. School resources and property cost more in some states than others. Political pressures or court orders, such as the push to equalize school expenditures across counties, often lead legislatures to increase per student funding statewide.

Teachers' unions contend that school funding affects academic performance, but some studies, such as a 2001 report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington-based policy group that advocates less government, have found no correlation between spending and achievement.

The ALEC report showed that Maryland spent $3,252 more per student than Utah in 1999, but both states reported the same reading test scores for eighth graders.

Spending per student has increased nearly twenty-fold since 1920, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The Census' annual report shows how much state, local and federal funds were spent on school operations and construction. The report uses financial data on public elementary and secondary school systems with enrollments of 15,000 or more.

The report showed that state governments provide the most school funding, $201 billion annually, compared to $173 billion from local governments and $29 billion from the federal government.


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