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Education spending balloons, but students in some states get more money than others

There is disagreement within education circles over whether spending more money per pupil leads to better results. But there is no disagreement that the amount of money states spend on education has erupted in recent years.

In almost every state, the amount of money spent per pupil has more than doubled in the last 40 years, according to a new report. States spent an average of $4,221 per student in the 1969-1970 school year, in 2010 dollars. That number jumped to $10,643 in the 2009-2010 school year.

2010 per-pupil spending

But the increase is hardly uniform across the states. Education budgets have risen in Northeastern states much faster than those in the Mountain West and South. Today, the average student costs taxpayers in New York $18,167 a year, while Utah, Idaho and Oklahoma spend less than $8,000 a year on their students.

The report, published this week by Education Week, shows a growing gap between the amount liberal states and conservative states spend on education. Most liberal-leaning states have focused spending on low-income students, the report found, accounting for much of the cost increases.

Change in per pupil spending, 1970-2010

Courts have accounted for big budget jumps in other states. Twenty-four states have seen education budgets balloon after courts ordered them to spend more to adequately fund schools.

Some states that have seen the biggest spending increases are home to over-performing students. Of the 10 states that spend the most per pupil, seven have students in 4th and 8th grade who perform higher than the national average in mathematics proficiency, according to data collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Six have 4th graders and 8th graders who perform above the national average in reading proficiency.


(Credit: National Assessment of Educational Progress report.)

Among the 10 states that spend the least amount per pupil, students in only one — Utah — perform higher than the national average in reading. Five have students who perform significantly worse than the national average in reading in both 4th and 8th grades, and students in three states perform below the national average in math.


(Credit: National Assessment of Educational Progress report.)

The 10 areas that spend the most per pupil include the District of Columbia, which spends $20,910 per student; New York; New Jersey; Vermont; Alaska; Connecticut; Wyoming; Rhode Island; Massachusetts; and Maryland, which spends $9,460 per student. The 10 lowest-spending states are Florida; Texas; Nevada; North Carolina; Tennessee; Mississippi; Arizona; Oklahoma; Idaho; and Utah, which spent $6,237 per student in the 2009-2010 school year.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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