Budget & Finance

How Much Money Do Public Schools Get? The Latest Numbers

By Mark Lieberman — June 08, 2023 1 min read
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Overall funding for K-12 schools in the U.S. grew by $38 billion during the 2020-2021 school year—the first one that entirely coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That growth can be attributed in large part to the infusion of pandemic relief aid the federal government approved for districts in three rounds between March 2020 and March 2021. That investment totaled just shy of $200 billion.

The latest school figures come from recently released fiscal year 2021 data compiled from school district surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

While the data are nearly two years old, they offer the most up-to-date, comprehensive look at school spending across the nation, in individual states, and in each district.

Advocates of school funding transparency have long pushed for a faster turnaround on spending data. But those calls so far have gone unanswered.

Here are the key numbers you need to know to understand what these surveys reveal about the state of K-12 school funding.

$809 billion   The total amount America collectively invested in K-12 schools, from state, local, and federal sources—up from $771 billion the previous year. That amount is roughly equivalent to the amount the federal government spends each year on defense.

10.5 percent   The percentage of school funding that came from federal sources like Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The bulk of school funding consistently comes from a mixture of state aid (45 percent) and local tax revenue (44 percent). The federal government's contribution was higher than normal due to the pandemic relief aid Congress delivered to districts in three installments. Last year, for instance, the federal government contributed only 7.5 percent of total K-12 spending.

2   The number of states that derived more than 19 percent of their annual education funding from the federal government. Those states, South Dakota and Mississippi, depended on federal funding more than any other. On the opposite extreme, Connecticut got only slightly more than 5 percent of its K-12 revenue from the federal government.

$14,347   The average amount spent per K-12 student nationwide, up from $13,501 in fiscal year 2020 and $10,608 a decade before. Adjusted for inflation, education funding per pupil nationwide has risen by about $1,800 in the last decade.

3   The number of states that spent less than $10,000 per student on average. Those states were Arizona, Idaho, and Utah, which each spent an average of roughly $9,600 per student. The number of states investing less than $10,000 per student dropped noticeably from the previous year, when five additional states were in that category.

$20,000   Five states and Washington, D.C. spend more than this amount per student on average, and more than double what the lowest-spending states invest. Those states are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. In several of those states, sizable urban districts like Boston and New York City, each with large shares of children whose education is more costly to provide, drive up the overall state average.

82 percent   The rough percentage of K-12 education funding that went toward salaries and benefits for staff. The vast majority of funds in school budgets—$11,724 per student on average nationwide—go toward compensating educators and their collaborators.

7.5 percent   The rough percentage of K-12 education funding that goes toward compensation for school and district administrators. Advocates for fiscal responsibility in schools often argue that administrative bloat is causing school budgets to balloon—but the data suggest those costs haven't grown significantly in recent decades. In 2011, a decade earlier, administrator compensation made up 7.3 percent of school budgets. And in 2001, roughly 6.5 percent of school investment went to administrators.

$20.8 billion   The amount of school funding nationwide that went to paying off outstanding debt school districts incur to finance building construction, renovation, and other longer-term projects. That’s about 2.5 percent of America’s overall investment in K-12 schools. As of fiscal year 2021, America’s schools collectively bore $533 billion in debt obligations yet to be paid.

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