Education Funding

What America Spends on K-12: The Latest Federal Snapshot

By Mark Lieberman — May 11, 2022 2 min read
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The financial effects of the pandemic wave that crashed into schools in March 2020 are still coming into focus—but new data offer a glimpse at the state of play as the crisis was revving up.

America invested $795 billion in local, state, and federal money on its K-12 public schools for the 2019-20 school year, according to new annual federal school spending data released Wednesday. That figure is roughly comparable to the federal government’s $700 billion defense budget that year, and represents a 1.5 percent increase in overall school district revenue compared with the previous fiscal year.

Roughly 93 percent of that money came from state and local sources, with the federal government contributing the rest through programs like Title I, Impact Aid for schools that serve students who live on federal land, and Indian Education, for Native American students. The percentage of state and local funds in that total increased relative to the previous year.

The data, drawn from the annual National Public Education Financial Survey distributed each year by the U.S. Department of Education, include only a tiny portion of the $30 billion allocated to schools in March 2020 through the CARES Act pandemic relief package.

Roughly $537 million, or less than 2 percent, of CARES Act funds, were reported in time to appear in this year’s data, said Stephen Cornman, a statistician for the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the department’s Institute for Education Sciences.

That means next year’s figures will offer a far more comprehensive picture of the pandemic’s fiscal impact on schools—new and chaotic expenditures, and multiple rounds of federal emergency relief that will continue to ripple out in balance sheets for years to come.

A few other key statistics in the data offer a picture of how school finance works in the United States:

  • Four-fifths of all public education spending went to salaries and benefits. In some districts, that percentage is even higher.
  • Ten percent of school revenue went toward “capital outlay.” That includes construction, renovation, and maintenance, which are typically funded separately from operating expenses because they take multiple years to finance and complete.
  • $17,000 separated the states with the highest and lowest average per-pupil spending. Utah spent $8,200 per student, while New York spent $25,000 per student. Three other states—Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont—and D.C. also spent more than $20,000 per student. Seven other states—Arizona, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah—also spent less than $10,000 per student.
  • Education funding is highly volatile, depending on where you live. Delaware spent 12.8 percent less on K-12 schools in the 2019-20 school year than it did the previous year. New Mexico, by contrast, raised spending year over the previous year by 9.3 percent. Most other states saw an increase or decrease between zero and 2 percent.

Read the full report.

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