Per Pupil Spending by State: Making Sense of Census Education Data

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per pupil spending

New York invests more per student than the three lowest-spending states combined

The young people are our future. Every student matters. Spending on education is a wise investment.

 Most people would agree with these statements; but as we know, that “investment” varies dramatically from state to state.

Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal just how wide a gap exists between the spending-per-pupil “haves” and “have nots.” For example, the top-spending state invests nearly triple the amount per pupil each year (New York at $23,091) than the lowest-spending state (Utah at $7,179). In fact, the Empire State spends more per student than the three lowest-spending states combined — Utah, Idaho ($7,486) and Oklahoma ($7,940).

Per Pupil Spending Per State


The question of whether and how per-pupil spending relates to educational outcomes such as graduation rates is difficult to quantify and is a matter of spirited debate.

Not surprisingly, the National Education Association (NEA) asserts that: “The Evidence is Clear: More Money For Schools Means Better Student Outcomes.” The Learning Policy Institute is in agreement, stating: “Research Shows That When it Comes to Student Achievement, Money Matters.”

However, a report from The World Bank (LEARNING to Realize Education’s Promise), while acknowledging that “money matters,” suggests a “weak correlation between spending and learning outcomes.”

That said, let’s examine some more data from the government spreadsheet. How much does your state spend per pupil — did you crack the top 10 list?

The Top 10 States in Per-Pupil Spending

All but two of the 10 states that recorded the highest per-pupil spending are situated in the northeastern U.S. (Though technically not a state, the District of Columbia ranks second in per-pupil spending.)

State – Amount Spent Per Pupil

New York – $23,091

District of Columbia – $21,974

Connecticut – $19,322

New Jersey – $18,920

Vermont – $18,290

Alaska – $17,838

Wyoming – $16,537

Massachusetts – $16,197

Rhode Island – $15,943

Pennsylvania – $15,798

New Hampshire – $15,683

The Bottom 10 States in Per-Pupil Spending

The 10 states that recorded the lowest per-pupil spending are situated in the southern and western U.S.

State – Amount Spent Per Pupil

Utah – $7,179

Idaho – $7,486

Oklahoma – $7,940

Arizona – $8,003

Mississippi – $8,771

North Carolina – $9,072

Florida – $9,075

Tennessee – $9,184

Nevada – $9,320

Texas – $9,375

Per-Pupil Education Spending [Additional Insights]

Here are some additional takeaways from the Census Bureau report.

Of the 100 largest school systems based on enrollment in the United States, the Foundation for Economic Education reports that the five school systems with the highest spending per pupil in 2017 were:

  • New York City School District in New York ($25,199)
  • Boston City Schools in Massachusetts ($22,292)
  • Baltimore City Schools in Maryland ($16,184)
  • Montgomery County School District in Maryland ($16,109)
  • Howard County School District in Maryland ($15,921)

Maryland had one additional school system in the top 10, giving it four of the nation’s top 10 well-funded school systems, despite ranking a modest 14th overall in per-pupil spending.

Percentage of Funding from Federal Sources

Among public school systems, New Mexico (14.4%), Mississippi (14.1%), Alaska (14.0%), Arizona (13.7%) and South Dakota (12.8%) received the highest percentage of their revenues from the federal government, while public schools in New Jersey (4.1%), Massachusetts (4.3%), Connecticut (4.3%), Minnesota (5.2%) and New York (5.3%) received the lowest.

Largest Public School Systems by Enrollment

The top five school systems with the largest enrollment were New York City (984,462), Los Angeles (633,621), Chicago (378,199), Miami-Dade County, Florida (357,249) and Clark County, Nevada (326,953). Of the next largest five, four are in Florida and one is in Texas (Houston).

Largest Percentage Increase in Per-Pupil Spending

While the average increase nationally was 3.7%, several states made considerably larger gains in per-pupil spending during FY 2017.

  • Kansas – 10.1%
  • District of Columbia – 8.6%
  • South Dakota – 8.3%
  • Illinois – 8.2%

The double-digit percentage increase boosted Kansas to the 31st spot in the per-pupil spending rankings, up from 33rd the previous year. Only Oklahoma spent less money per pupil in 2017 than it did in the preceding year (minus 1.9%); it currently ranks third from the bottom in spending per student.

Per-Pupil Education Spending [Fun Facts]

Small states that spend big: Vermont ranked fourth in per pupil spending ($18,290) despite being the second smallest state by population (627,180).

Big states that spend small: Texas, the second most populous state (29,087,070), ranked just 42nd in per pupil spending ($9,375).

Giant states with small populations that spend big: Alaska, the state with the fourth smallest population (735,720) despite being largest in size, ranks sixth in spending ($17,838).

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