State of the Facts
Spending on K-12 education by school is far from equal, according to per student spending by school in the US.
Nationwide, the top spending schools  by expenditure per student spent $40,566 or more in 2019, more than three times the median school expenditure per student of $11,953.
The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) required states to publish school-level per-pupil expenditure data every fiscal year. But the law didn’t set out rules for how to organize that data across all states.
Edunomics Lab, a Georgetown University-based research center, pulled in the ESSA data from each state and then standardized it so it could be comparable from school to school, nationwide. Up until ESSA and the Edunomics Lab project, per-student spending information had only been available at the school district level. The effort was funded in part by the Department of Education.
Looking at per-student spending makes it easier to compare school-level expenditures nationwide.
Overall, New York schools lead the nation in per-pupil spending with a median of $25,358.
Four states spent more than $20,000 per pupil as of 2019.
Utah spent the least in terms of per-pupil spending with a median of $7,810.
Nine states spent less than $10,000 per pupil as of 2019.
Spending per student tends to be higher for preschools and high schools, across all states.
Early education programs such as preschools tend to spend more per pupil. Nationwide, preschools and other early education programs spent a median of $11,956 per student, while elementary schools spent a median of $11,849 per student.
Middle and high schools spent $11,529 per student and $12,707 per student, respectively.
For kids enrolled in early education programs such as pre-kindergarten, Nevada’s median per-pupil expenditure was $32,274—the most of any state for this level of education. Utah’s median expenditure was the lowest at $6,026 per student enrolled in early education programs.
For elementary schools, New York’s median expenditure was $24,999 per student — the highest of any state. Utah’s median expenditure was $7,596 — the lowest of any state.
For middle schools, New York once again had the highest median expenditure per student ($25,660 per middle school student) and Idaho had the lowest ($7,534 per middle school student.)
For high schools, Alaska had the highest median expenditure of any state at $31,779 per high school student. Arizona had the lowest median expenditure rate of $8,708 per high school student.
There’s a wide range of how much money is spent per student at schools within each state.
Nationwide, the top 1% of schools by per-pupil expenditures spent $40,566 per student in 2019. But in 31 states, the top 1% in school spending exceeded that level. High schools were the majority that spent more than $40,566 per student in those states.
In a state such as New York, the median spending per student was $25,358 — the highest median spending across all school types of any state. Spending per student was more than three times that amount ($77,819 or higher) for schools in the top 1% by per-pupil spending. Schools in the bottom one percent for student expenditures spent $12,868 per student or less.
Utah spent the least per student, according to Edunomics. Utah’s median per-pupil spending on education was $7,810. On the high end, the top 1% of schools by per-pupil expenditures in Utah spent $47,195 or more. That’s more than six times greater than the median level of per-pupil spending in the state. On the lower end, the bottom 1% spent $2,980 per student or less.
Alaska is an example of a state where different schools within a state spend differing amounts of money on students. Half of all schools in the state spent at least $19,923 per student. But the top 1% of schools in Alaska spent at least $75,627 per student. Twenty-five percent of schools in Alaska spent $35,331 per student or less.
The Edunomics Lab downloaded or requested ESSA data from 49 states and Washington, DC for Fiscal Year 2019.
At first, school-level spending data was inconsistent and not comparable across states. While the legislation required schools to report financial information, it did not mandate data standards. The Edunomics Lab pulled together the school-level data and created a methodology to normalize data for comparison. The Edunomics Lab reports both the raw numbers provided by the states and their normalized numbers.
Although states may categorize education spending differently from each other, they consistently report a total figure and per-pupil expenditure calculations. More details on the Edunomics Lab methodology can be found on their site.
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Edunomics captures school spending data from schools in 49 states and Washington, DC for traditional and charter public schools. The dataset does not include South Dakota.
Top spending is defined as schools in the top 1% of all K-12 schools by expenditure per student.
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