School spending

The average expenditure per K-12 student is $7,734 nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of that, $4,755 goes for instruction. Utah, at $4,900 per student, spent the least; the District of Columbia spent the most, $12,102. California was right in the middle, spending more than Texas but a lot less than New York and New Jersey.

Adding in capital expenditures, the national average was $8,589 with D.C. spending more than $15,000 per student, and getting very little education for the dollars.

Update: As commenters noted, the cost of living is much higher in California than in Texas. A reader sent me a link to a salary calculator, which says that $35,000 in Houston is the equivalent of $49,000 in Los Angeles.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    All children deserve an education, but not an education in California or Texas. Mexico has free public education. Children’s education should incorporate respect for the law, a respect not easy to engender when their very presence is illegal. If California educated only those legally resident in Clifornia, perhaps the return on our education investment would be higher.

  2. Is there anywhere one can get this information adjusted for the cost-of-living in each state? My gut feeling is that California and Texas would switch places if the cost-of-living were taken into account.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    To beat those who claim that private schools can do it for $4K a year, the Wall Street Journal had a story in January that stated that the average cost of a college prep high school was over $16K per student year and that those schools were struggling to provide science labs, foreign language, and extras are are common to most suburban public high schools.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Why don’t I trust these statistics?

  5. average cost of a college prep high school was over $16K per student year

    Was this nationwide, or was it in, say, the D.C. area? And was it an unweighted average of tuitions charged by each school? If so, a small, astronomically expensive school would have an inordinate effect on the number.

    A more meaningful statistic would be the median of tuitions paid for all students.

  6. To me the most meaningful statistic would the amount of money actually spent on educational matters as opposed to the amount of money overall. How much of this went to teachers, how much to ed supplies, as opposed to how much for admin costs and janitorial costs and transportation costs. I know those other costs are important but if the admin costs are too high, then the amount actually spent on ed would be too low. The point made as to the amount spent adjusted for cost of living also would affect this. I know that in my field before I retired, the difference between Florida and North Dakota and New York was like night and day. All too much is made of gross amounts and not enough is made of targeting the money so that it actually does some good.

  7. I’ve gotten involved in reducing the dropout rate here in Corpus Christi. The first, most important topic? Teacher pay.

    No, we never see a published school district budget to see where the money is going, but starting teachers get $35K here–not too bad for someone right out of college with what amounts to a simple liberal arts degree.

  8. Mike in Texas says:

    Bunker wrote:

    simple liberal arts degree.

    Did you attend any teacher education classes or earn a teaching certificate? Or have you just assumed it was easy?

  9. Another one of the things that i’d like to see a breakdown of for comparison purposes is how much of the money California spends per pupil for public education is allotted for children without any special needs. I don’t think that the general public considers the significant proportion of a school distict’s budget must be allocated for the special needs of many children. [I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t pay for this, so please don’t read that into my comment] District’s have many children that cost up to $60,000 per year to care for. These children attend very expensive private programs, because public ed can’t serve them.

    After factoring out these extrordinary (I’ve heard figures that special programs take about 40-45% of a distict’s budget), but necessary, costs it’s not hard to see that the money left for the rest of the children is nowhere near the $7,500 average that California claims [and every other state as well]

    Our state spending on the more typical student will likely compare quite favorably against even the cheapest of the private schools even the ever touted parochials. If the public is going to be convinced that schools need more money then they are going to need to see where the money actually goes and who it is spent on and how little of the budget is left for everyone else.

  10. Your suppositions would be more persuasive if they were supported by the data that’s almost impossible to pry out of school systems.

    Mike in Texas wrote:

    Did you attend any teacher education classes or earn a teaching certificate?

    If you had you’d know that teaching isn’t like anything else, whatever that means.

  11. Mike in Texas wrote: Your suppositions would be more persuasive if they were supported by the data that’s almost impossible to pry out of school systems.

    I don’t have the facts at my fingertips, however I did work as a teacher for six years so I have seen enough of the numbers to feel confident that I right. Also, as a parent of school aged children I’ve sat on numerous school site committees and have seen the numbers from that side as well.

    Here is a link to EdSource Online with a generalized outline of California’s education spending:

    They note that categorical spending represents about 38% of the total spending for k-12 education. Categorical funds btw don’t come close to covering the entire costs of these state and federally mandated programs, the balance is made up from the district’s general funds. My 40% number turns out to be too conservative an estimate.

  12. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    The discussion of the efficacy of spending state by state is less important than dealing with the source of the problem that requires compensatory education spending in the first place. I urge all of your readers to read an excellent article by Allan Favish, “HAS ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION RUINED LOS ANGELES PUBLIC SCHOOLS?”. { Naturally, the title is a rhetorical question. This piece–especially the final paragraph–says it all. It makes the other issues of spending, teaching strategies, vouchers, direct instruction vs. constructivism, ad nauseum, irrelevant. The massive influx of large numbers of non-English speaking children from uneducated parents into urban schools systems like L.A.U.S.D has hurt all students’ education. This is the ‘pink elephant’ in the room that no one–except most teachers–wants to acknowledge. The Right (desiring cheap labor to help Big Business) and the Left (pandering to Latino voters and political correctness) refuse to address the issue of illegal immigration of uneducated third world subset groups. The consequence is no less than the destruction of our public schools. ‘Nuff said.

  13. MrE wrote:

    Mike in Texas wrote: Your suppositions would be more persuasive if they were supported by the data that’s almost impossible to pry out of school systems.

    No, that would be me, Allen, who wrote that. Mike in Texas is the shill for the NEA.

    School districts are neither compelled by law or by the circumstances of their existance to break out financial data in a manner that would allow an accurate determination of what percentage goes to administration and what percentage to instruction. That alone would make it difficult to determine administrative versus instructional costs.

    The reality of course is that administrative costs are always elusive. Human nature being what it is, the superintendant is far more likely to try to hide an administrative expense then to be forthcoming about it. After all, some expense that makes the superintendant’s job easier isn’t necessarily an expense that results in a higher literacy rate among high school graduates. If that’s the case, how do you justify the expense? Better to make sure the question is never asked.

    nailsagainsttheboard wrote:

    The massive influx of large numbers of non-English speaking children from uneducated parents into urban schools systems like L.A.U.S.D has hurt all students’ education.

    While I don’t doubt that there is a massive influx of non-English speaking children in L.A.U.S.D., positing that as the primary reason for the school districts problems doesn’t help explain why virtually every other large, municipal school district is similarly afflicted. While I haven’t seen any research to support my opinion, it seems that every large, municipal school district suffers from unacceptably low literacy rates, unacceptably high drop-out rates, crumbling infrastructure and inadequate budgets.

    LAUSD may have some unique, or at least uncommon, problems but the results seem to be much too pervasive. There’s something else going on that ensures certain kinds of problems.

    A large influx of non-English speaking kids could easily exascerbate the underlying problem but there’s still that underlying problem.

  14. a far more illuminating statistic is cost per finished product: aka a college-ready graduate

    i.e. if only 25% of students exit ready for college, then the cost per graduate is 4x

    Higher yield schools can have a much lower cost per graduate. California has a powerful database for deriving this stat: pick the bottom two categories of “grads with UC/CSU Required Courses”

    (and to head off one line of distraction, yes, there are many career paths outside of the 4-year college track, but being ready for college makes a good citizen and flexible future … and opens a critical path to succeed to college)

  15. and there’s probably some far more clever way to embed the link (if you can show it, please share!)

  16. there’s a way to embed links but after spending a half hour finding it the first time I decided to cheat:

  17. The per pupil dollar amounts are meaningless without knowing the cost of living in a particular area. You also should know how the district uses the money. For example, here’s a breakdown from the current year’s budget at our school system.

    Major budget areas:

    Instruction 70.2%
    O&M/cap proj 9.7
    Transportation 5.1
    Debt service 3.7
    Gen. Support 5.2
    Support/inst 6.1

    Staffing is broken down as follows:

    Instructional professional staff 54.2%
    Paraprofessionals 15.4
    Administration 3.9
    Clerical 9.7
    Custodial/grounds/maintenance 9.1
    Transportation 5.4
    Health Support Services 2.2

    Total administration costs are 11.3% of the total budget.

    This all looks pretty reasonable to me.

  18. You also have to know outcomes to know if they are meaningful. That budget doesn’t speak to graduation rates or college-ready rates. if either is significantly less than 100%, then you have a problem.


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