Schools of Thought

Which places spent most per student on education?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Public school systems spent an average of $10,615 per student in the 2010 fiscal year, an increase of 1.1% from the previous year, according to  Public Education Finances: 2010, a U.S. Census Bureau report released today.

Washington, D.C., schools topped per-pupil spending at $18,667; Utah was lowest, at $6,064. Public schools systems spent $602.6 billion in 2010, a 0.4% decrease since 2009 - the first time the spending level has gone down since the Census Bureau began to keep track.

Although the amount spent per student has steadily crept up in recent decades, it can vary widely based on cost of living and operating. Of the 50 largest school systems, New York City School District spent the most per student in 2010 at $19,597.

Make no mistake: Spending a lot of money doesn't mean a kid is getting a good education, and spending less doesn't mean it's bad. Per-pupil spending comes up often because it's among the few easy-to-compare measurements  that crosses school, district and state lines, said Matthew Chingos, a researcher with Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

“Per-pupil funding is a pretty terrible measure of quality of education,” Chingos said. “In some case, it matters, but sometimes it’s hard to find evidence it matters.”

No measure is perfect, Chingos said; parents considering where to live would be better off to gauge how much is going into education, and what the outcomes are - per-pupil spending data, info about how well students do on tests, how they’re improving, how many graduate or go to college, for example.

"You should think about productivity – return on taxpayer investment," Chingos said.

What per-pupil funding can do: Make taxpayers understand how much it costs to educate a child in their area. They'll be able to see if it's similar across districts nearby, Chingos said, and seek better answers about how money is spent.

Here are the places that spend the most and least on each student:

Highest per-pupil spending
Washington, D.C. - $18,667
New York - $18,618
New Jersey - $16,841
Alaska - $15,783
Vermont - $15,274
Wyoming - $15,169
Connecticut - $14,906
Massachusetts - $14,350
Maryland - $13,738
Rhode Island - $13,699

Lowest per-pupil spending
Utah - $6,064
Idaho - $7,106
Arizona - $7,848
Oklahoma - $7,896
Tennessee - $8,065
Mississippi - $8,119
North Carolina - $8,409
Nevada - $8,483
Florida –$8,741
Texas - $8,746