The United States spent an average of $10,608 per pupil educating its young people in the nation’s elementary-secondary school systems in fiscal 2012. According to the most recent data available by the U.S. Census Bureau, that translates into a slight decrease in per-pupil spending over 2010, when the U.S. spent a reported $10,615 per pupil.
Where do schools get their money?
Schools are financed from three main sources: local, state and federal funds. For the 2011-2012 school year, total school revenues were $594.5 billion. This represents nearly a $1 billion increase in revenue compared to 2010, when total school revenues were $593.7 billion.
In other words, U.S. schools spent less money per pupil in 2012, even though they collected more revenue than in 2010. The bulk of the revenue increase came from state and local sources. The federal share of elementary-secondary revenue declined from $74 billion, or 12.5 percent of total revenue in 2010, to $59.5 billion and 10 percent of total revenue in 2012.
Broken down by revenue sources, here is how that total was reached:
- Local revenues: $264.6 billion (44.5 percent of total revenues)
- State revenues: $270.4 billion (45.5 percent of total revenues)
- Federal revenues: $59.5 billion (10 percent of total revenues)
Where are schools spending their money?
Of the $524 billion in budget spending by U.S. schools for the 2012 fiscal year, a relatively small amount, $17.9 billion, was spent on interest on debt and payments to other governments. Additionally, less than 10 percent ($50.1 billion) was spent on construction, land, existing structures and equipment. By far the largest amount was spent on a broad category called “current spending.” The $524 billion that falls into this category is divided as follows:
- $316.6 billion: Instruction
- $48.2 billion: Operation and maintenance
- $29.1 billion: Pupil support services
- $27.8 billion: School administration
- $23.7 billion: Instructional staff support services
- $23.1 billion: Pupil transportation
- $18.0 billion: Other and non-specified support services
- $9.7 billion: General administration.
Costs per student by state
Public education by state rankings show that New York spent the most per pupil at $19,552. The next top five are District of Columbia ($17,468), Alaska ($17,390), New Jersey ($17,266), Connecticut ($16,274) and Vermont ($16,040).
The states spending the least on a per-pupil basis in 2012 are Mississippi ($8,164), Idaho ($7,659), Arizona ($7,559), Oklahoma ($7,466) and Utah ($6,206).
Other notes of interest:
- States with the highest spending on instruction salaries in 2012 were District of Columbia, New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, Wyoming and Massachusetts.
- States with the lowest spending on overall instruction in 2012 were Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Mississippi, Colorado and Texas.
- States that received the highest percentage of funding from federal sources in 2012 were District of Columbia, Alaska, Louisiana, Hawaii, South Dakota, North Dakota and Mississippi.
- More than 20 states’ public school systems saw drops in overall spending per pupil in 2012.
Here is a complete list of public education by state rankings on a per-pupil spending basis. States are listed alphabetically:
District of Columbia: $17,468
New Hampshire: $13,593
New Jersey: $17,266
New Mexico: $8,899
New York: $19,552
North Carolina: $8,200
North Dakota: $11,679
Rhode Island: $14,005
South Carolina: $9,147
South Dakota: $8,446
West Virginia: $11,445
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- "Public School System Finances," U.S. Census Bureau | Public Elementary–Secondary Education Finance Data
- "2012 Census of Governments | Survey of School System Finances," U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 Census of Governments: Finance‐Survey of School System Finances