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January 31, 2015

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Investing in education: States that spend the most, least per student


Justin M. Bowen

Arthur Gamboa leads a discussion with his 38 students in his Modern Literature class at Palo Verde High School Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

If a state spends more on schools, will students perform better?

That’s the question being debated in Nevada and nationwide as states grapple with shrinking budgets and parents and leaders debate how best to educate children.

The short answer is: not necessarily. A recent analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau, coupled with graduation statistics compiled by Education Week, shows the amount of money a state spends on a student doesn’t necessarily correlate with how well that student performs. In other words, many generous states have woefully low graduation rates, while some stingier states graduate students en mass.

On average, states spent $10,499 per pupil during the 2008-09 school year, the most recent year for which figures were available. Leading the country was New York, which spent almost double that per student. Utah rounded up the bottom, shelling out just more than half that.

Where does Nevada rank? (Hint: Not at the top.) Here are the seven states with the highest spending per pupil, and the seven states with the least spending per pupil.

      1: New York

      • Spending per pupil: $18,126

      • Graduation rate: 72 percent

      New York leads the nation in per pupil spending for the fifth year in a row, but it comes at a cost: The state has one of the highest property tax rates in the country. The state has doubled its per student spending over the past decade, and school districts pay the most lucrative teacher salaries and benefits in the country, about double the national average.

      And while New York’s high school graduation rate improves slightly year over year, studies show the vast majority of graduates are not prepared for college.

      2. Washington, D.C.

      • Spending per pupil: $16,408

      • Graduation rate: 43 percent

      Washington, D.C., ranks second in the nation for per pupil spending, but its graduation rates are among the worst in the country. Anti-tax advocates often use it as a centerpiece for arguing that higher spending doesn’t always equate to better results.

      One likely reason for the failing schools: It spends more money than any state on school administration. And although teachers are paid well, they receive paltry benefits packages.

      3. New Jersey

      • Spending per pupil: $16,271

      • Graduation rate: 87 percent

      Other states spend more on education than New Jersey, but the Garden State boasts the highest graduation rate in the country. It also leads the nation in graduating Hispanic and black students.

      The numbers aren’t good enough for Republican Gov. Chris Christie. He recently announced a pilot program that would allow private companies to run public schools in chronically underperforming districts, a plan strongly opposed by the state’s teachers union.

      4. Alaska

      • Spending per pupil: $15,552

      • Graduation rate: 66 percent

      Alaska receives the most federal aid per pupil of any state, more than double the national average. But the state struggles to keep its schools open because of a lack of population. State funding makes up the bulk of school districts’ revenue.

      Little-known fact: If a student misses a significant amount of school, resulting in worsening grades, the student’s parents can be fined $500 a day for every day missed.

      5. Vermont

      • Spending per pupil: $15,175

      • Graduation rate: 82 percent

      Along with having one of the highest per pupil spending averages in the country, Vermont showed one of the highest education spending increases from 2008 to 2009. Spending per pupil rose 6.1 percent, compared with the national average of 2.3 percent.

      To keep spending high as federal stimulus money runs out, Vermont’s education commissioner wants to phase out most of the state’s small school grants and consolidate its 277 school districts. Vermont leads the nation in spending the most amount of state money per pupil.

      6. Wyoming

      • Spending per pupil: $14,573

      • Graduation rate: 71 percent

      Wyoming relies less heavily on federal funding than most states, instead paying for education largely with state dollars. And state funding for teacher salaries rose sharply in 2006 after a study commissioned by the Legislature found that higher salaries kept new hires in the classroom.

      Did you know? The Wyoming Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of a school district requiring drug and alcohol testing for students who participate in extracurricular activities. Nine school districts in Wyoming mandate such testing.

      7. Connecticut

      • Spending per pupil: $14,531

      • Graduation rate: 79 percent

      The bulk of Connecticut’s education funding comes from local sources; the state receives the third lowest amount of federal funding in the nation. Still, it is a leader in teacher pay and benefits and spends more than most states on administration costs.

      Interesting tidbit: A Connecticut mother was charged with first-degree grand larceny and conspiracy for allegedly stealing $15,686 in educational services from Norwalk Public Schools. Officials alleged her 6-year-old son lived in a different school district.

      45. Nevada

      • Spending per pupil: $8,422

      • Graduation rate: 44 percent

      Nevada lags well below the national average ($10,499) in per pupil spending. The majority of money goes to the Clark County School District, by far the largest in the state, and the bulk of the district’s spending pays for salary and wages. The bulk of school revenue comes from state and local sources.

      The state historically ranks at or near the bottom in education spending and academic achievement. In fact, for several years Nevada has had the lowest graduation rate in the country. Only Washington, D.C., measured lower.

      46. Mississippi

      • Spending per pupil: $8,075

      • Graduation rate: 61 percent

      Mississippi ranks low in most quality-of-life assessments. The state receives only a small fraction of funding from the federal government and relies heavily on state money. Districts generally spend a sizable portion of their funding on administration and pay teachers poorly.

      In the news: Civil rights advocates are suing Jackson’s public school district, claiming officials at an alternative school shackled children to railings and poles for hours at a time.

      47. Tennessee

      • Spending per pupil: $7,897

      • Graduation rate: 77 percent

      Tennessee enjoys the highest graduation rate among the nation’s lowest-funded schools. That can be attributed in part to the fact that Memphis, the state’s biggest city, spends significantly more on its students.

      Still, many of the city’s schools are struggling. In fact, four Memphis schools last week were pulled from district control and placed into a state-run district. The superintendent is an “Oprah-approved” administrator who founded a successful charter school. He is tasked with improving student outcomes in the lowest performing campuses.

      48. Oklahoma

      • Spending per pupil: $7,855

      • Graduation rate: 70 percent

      Oklahoma offers among the least lucrative teacher salary and benefits packages in the nation. A ballot measure will go to voters in November to decide whether to raise per pupil spending to the regional average. Such a move would cost $1.7 billion over three years, and the state already faces a $1 billion budget hole.

      To help ease the crunch of increasing school populations, at least one district has begun to offer students the option of attending a free online public charter school. Teachers provide online instruction and support, K-12 students work at their own pace, and the school is governed by an independent nonprofit board.

      49. Arizona

      • Spending per pupil: $7,813

      • Graduation rate: 67 percent

      Arizona relies primarily on state and local taxes to fund education, and the Legislature continues to cut both streams of money to schools. Critics argue that the cuts result in low graduation rates.

      At the same time, the gap between “have” and “have not” schools is on the rise, and building repairs statewide go unfunded. This year, voters will see the highest number of school district bond questions on the ballot since 2006, when they had 14 to consider. Arizona also is among the lowest-paying states for teacher salaries.

      50. Idaho

      • Spending per pupil: $7,092

      • Graduation rate: 76 percent

      Idaho public schools face even deeper cuts in the future as lawmakers wrestle with budget deficits. State legislators passed a sweeping education package this year that restricts collective bargaining, eliminates tenure and provides every high school student with a laptop computer. Opponents say the changes will undermine teachers and increase class sizes, while supporters argue the plan stretches the state’s scarce education dollars.

      Idaho ranks low in the amount of federal funding it receives, and the state’s teachers earn the third-lowest salaries in the country.

      51. Utah

      • Spending per pupil: $6,356

      • Graduation rate: 72 percent

      Even though Utah ranks last in the amount of spending per student, it enjoys a higher graduation rate than many of the big spenders. In fact, it graduates the same percentage of students as New York, which leads in per pupil spending.

      Several years ago, Utah officials increased school spending 10.3 percent (the second-highest jump in the country), but per pupil output remained low because the state’s population continued to grow. Utah has a higher average household size — 3.1 people — than the national average of 2.6.

      Quick fact: Almost half of a Utahn’s taxes goes toward schools statewide.

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    1. One of the big issues is that people tend to like to look for easy metrics, so they focus on simple numbers like dollars spent and graduation rates. It is less about how much money is spent and more about how the money is spent. The minute you start to really dive into the issues, most people tune out and so the people presenting the arguments throw the soundbites. And in the comparison there are a lot of differences in that New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. are all at the top of the list in part because they are expensive places to live more so than Louisiana or Idaho.

      In the end comparisons like this do not tell us much but they should make us ask more questions. When we see states that spend less and have significantly better outcomes, we should ask why. But even statewide comparisons can be pretty misleading. Outcomes likely differ substantially within the state as well. It is easy to make the argument that money will solve the problems and to point to things that more money can bring to the table. But if you do not find the real problems and deal with them then the money will never get you very far and the gains may only be temporary.

    2. There have to be more reason for low graduation rates than how much money is spent on each student. It can't be all about money.

    3. Really interesting article. The note about how Alaska fines parents $500 for poor attendance was interesting. Good to see some of these strategies have been implemented, and we can see how effective they've been.

      I believe that Joe (airweare) is right, that PPE is just one statistic, and grad rate is just one statistic. I personally find test scores reported by NCES more interesting, since grad rates involve a level of subjectivity, but even that is just one measure.

      It seems like the reality is that there needs to be a fundamental cultural change in order for things to really improve, the question is whether or not any change at the government level can help to encourage that cultural shift. I have to believe there's something we can do, otherwise there's literally no hope until the community changes their priorities.

    4. hey Mick...

      Of course it isn't "all about money"...
      not by a country mile.
      However, it's a BIG factor.

      You have to look at EACH STATE INDIVIDUALLY to ferret out the reasons WHY states or individual school districts succeed or fail.
      Look at D.C. & Alaska, for example...there are a BUNCH of reasons why NO AMOUNT of dough spent will make things better without a coordinated effort to address their "issues", which are obvious, and not so obvious.
      You simply cannot say, as Nevader does, that "we should spend LESS MONEY; hell, we're not getting good results with "X" amount of dollars, we might just as well SPEND LESS and get the same results"...
      that is just plain ignorant, and will result in more of the same; low graduation rates and struggles inherent in any LOW-BUDGET operation, no matter the endeavor.

    5. Clark County School District has paid teachers an additional $22.00 per hour to tutor those students who have failed the proficiency exam. (This funding may go away with budget cuts) Statistics show students attending tutoring sessions have a greater passing rate when re-taking the exam. Unfortunately, only a small number of the students take advantae of the free tutoring.

      Funding directed at tutoring and textbooks for every student should be a priority. It is too easy for a student to "blow-off" instructional time, attendance, tutoring and homework. Too many students expect to be given a grade or passed on to the next level, regardless of educational progress. Learning is not easy.

      It is time to take into consideration the efforts or lack thereof, made by the student and parent. Neither students nor parents value education. The student and parents should be held to a higher level of accountability. Students should do homework and parents should see that it is done. Students needing additional attention should attend mandatory tutoring, parents should be held accountable in seeing that their child attends. Parents should see that their child attends school.

      Teachers are only one leg of a three legged stool. Parents and students are the other two legs. Without all three legs being strong and giving support, the stool fails.

    6. People tend to focus on the NEGATIVE...
      i.e...graduation rates.
      What about all the SUCCESSFUL students that come out of CCSD? You know, the one's going on SCHOLARSHIPS to the likes of Harvard, Penn, Duke, Stanford, USC and the like...
      EVERY STUDENT has the same opportunity; Sink or Swim. What makes the good ones swim and the bad ones sink?
      #1 performance indicator:

    7. gmag, there should certainly be an emphasis on the success stories in the district, but it's not unreasonable to be extremely concerned that overall, CCSD and NV have some of the worst performing schools/students in the country. Most, if not all, states/districts have Ivy league bound students, but not every state has the poor overall stats that we have.

      You are right, though. We certainly should acknowledge and praise those kids that have succeeded. And look to those kids and their situation when attempting to come up with different solutions. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a combination of genetics, resources, support at home, and good teachers.

    8. If I need a new pair of shoes...

      I don't run up to the WalMart's and get a pair of $10, "made of recycled plastic bottles" shoes.

      I get a decent pair made with actual shoe leather.
      My feet are important to my overall health; I recognize that I need to pay a few bucks, and my new shoes will last 5 times longer, be more comfortable, and offer support for a very important part of my exoskeleton.

      "We can't see the forest fer them dang TREES!!!"

    9. The problem with education in Nevada is first Nevada, then Parents and then the education adminstration. Nevada is a state where higher education is frowned on by the largest employer, gaming and by the state itself. Most state jobs experience can be substituted for education. The top 7 states (excluding DC) and bottom states except Nevada all have a stable population, stable tax base and have not had the explosive growth of Nevada. Most parents here take litle of no interest in their childrens education, schoool is just a place to dump the kids for the day. Education in Nevada is top heavy with overpaid adminstratiors, heavy in centralized control. Teachers are occupied in the classroom with maintining order and doing the job of the parents instead of teaching. To fix education in Clark County the school system must be broken up and decentralized and controlled by local officials. Government must get parents involved in their students education, how is a question that needs an answer. Unruly, violent and disruptive students must be expelled, never to return! We are paying enought taxes for education it just not being spent correctly.

    10. "Vegas ain't Boston or Seattle. Education is not important here and won't be for generations to come. Sad but true."

      Right on, Joe.
      Nothing we rant about will change that; but I sure enjoy yours.
      Unfortunately, "telling it like it is" is scoffed at by the ignorant...and you can't change that, either. "Enlightenment"' is antithetical to the process of "becoming a Silver Stater".

    11. Airweave painted an accurate picture, as well as many of the commentators here. As an Educator, THANK YOU!

      Parents are the 1st teachers of their children. Many times, the parent is young and still "growing up" themselves, or has not completed their own education before engaging in having a family. That's life and has been going on since time began.

      But it is foolish for us to ignore the vital role of parents/family/home for a child's development and well-being, and how well that child will do in school, or gain in their education.

      The Nevada State LAWMAKERS must take the citizens of Nevada for fools though. Even when the state has spent countless millions on the yearly, "Parent, Teacher, Student Involvement Contract that is read,discussed, and signed by all parties each and every year, it lacks and thanks to SB229,(link:
      continues to lack, ENFORCEMENT TEETH! What a waste of taxpayer money! What an insult!

      So the millions of dollars and money spent on teacher labor administrating this document (that appears to have good intentions) and the millions of taxpayer dollars printing this document will continue, and it's message will have no real meaning as it has no provision to ENFORCE IT! AGAIN! Quit wasting time, LAWMAKERS!

    12. Another problem educators face: Many parents/families don't understand how important it is to try and get those dentist and doctor appointments, and family situation absences done during non-school hours. When a child misses instructional time, they missed a lesson, an opportunity to listen, experiment, practice, and learn! During pre-high stake test months, teachers are on an extremely tight lesson pacing schedule. A parent might need to teach that/or those missed lessons, or hire a private tutor, or start thinking about alternative schooling for their child if a traditional school setting doesn't fit their lifestyle. It is a factor. Many a bright child begins to suffer academically when they start missing school.

      Most parents would be surprised of the constantly raising bar of standards, or what a child should master by completing a certain grade. It goes UP every year, and teachers are forever returning for professional development to keep up with the changes. So it comes to no surprise that children experience frustration with homework, in part due to their parents are not "up/or fresh" on the subject, or, as many at Title 1 Schools, impacted with poverty or 2nd language, family members never mastered past the 3rd grade and therefore cannot help their school children out at home. This is extremely common in Clark County, and a factor for the poor graduation/or increased drop-out rates. Many times, the children are teaching their parents! As an example, I had a series of lessons involving my 3rd graders using a pretend check book, register,savings, accounting interest, exchange of foreign money, and so on. They returned to me what they were showing (teaching)their parents what to do! Amazing! School -- Home Connection, oh yeah!

      We can throw money at education. But let's do so wisely. Let's make sure there are adequate supplies and resources for teachers, don't make them beg, or go around begging. They use it for the kids. Every year, I watch what teachers and students throw in the trash during the last two weeks or so of school. Much of that stuff can be RECYCLED. Or it could be sent to be auctioned off at the warehouse. Does it happen? There is NO accounting for the stuff that goes into the trash dumpster at Nevada schools. NONE. It's a pet gripe of mine.

      With Americans barely surviving these days, planning for the future, and even living to the next month, it is pretty ambitious thinking about taking one's education or life too seriously. Until our population can feel more secure, and be able to reset its priorities and establish focus on the job at hand, we will continue to drift in education, no matter who is at the helm of the ship.

    13. The State of New Jersey spends a small fortune on students in urban areas and it is just a big waste of money. These students fail miserably in standard tests.It is what you do with the money that counts. There needs to be accountability from teachers and the grossly overpaid school administrators.

    14. It is not how much we spend, but HOW THE FUNDS ARE SPENT. Forget about teacher salary - that issue will take a miracle to get resolved.

      An independent audit is necessary to determine where the money is being spent. I know for a fact that a major chunk is not directly for students.

      Unless someone with guts looks at this issue - the status quo remains. You all can argue about this and that, but it won't solve anything.

      Sadly, no one in this state has the b***s to take on the powers-that-be. Good luck Nevada.

    15. I agree with "A Sad Teacher." I would love to see a thorough outside audit down of the CCSD! We, as taxpayers, should be able to see where the money is going. How do we go about getting this done??

    16. @LasVegas2011.

      Look at the demographics of Nevada and Utah to answer your question. Utah is a Mormon state, with the community support and emphasis on education. Nevada on the other hand, is a state that has had huge growth in the past decade, with many people moving to the state with no support system, and no sense of community, and no value for education.

    17. Vermont has 277 school districts, for a state with a population less than Clark County. What does that tell you about small class size? Maybe it does make a difference. The largest town in Vermont is Burlington with a population of 45,500.

    18. Let's see how New Jersey does when more public money is diverted into private pockets: they will rise to the top in per-pupil expenses and fall in their graduation rate.
      Keeping a handle on administration expenses and giving the balance to teachers is an important part of the answer to getting better value in education (along with parental involvement).
      Shoveling money to charter schools only feeds corporate profiteering at public expense and helps prevent an educated citizenry from achieving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    19. Airware and Mar100 are correct up to a point. We do live in a state in which education is not valued. One of the reason's for this is that our largest employer, the gaming industry, is willing to hire people without high school degrees who they can train to do jobs their ways. Add this to some of the comments already made about the belief systems and values in our community we have a situation in which the value of a good job in gaming is well worth the alternative of a good education.