The nation’s per-pupil spending on K-12 public schools dropped in 2013 for the third year in a row, reversing more than a decade of funding increases, according to federal data released Wednesday.
Spending continued to vary widely across the country, from a low of $6,432 per student in Utah to a high of $20,530 per student in the District of Columbia. The biggest spenders were largely clustered in the Northeast, while the lowest were in the West and Southeast.
The national average was $10,763, down 0.6 percent compared with 2012, adjusting for inflation.
That decline was less dramatic than the 3 percent drop the year before, but it shows that, in many places, funding for public education has not rebounded as the economy recovered from the Great Recession.
Twenty states saw per-pupil spending decline by 1 percent or more in the 2012-2013 school year, and some saw much larger decreases. In Oregon and West Virginia, per-pupil spending fell more than 4 percent, and it dropped more than 3 percent in Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana and Rhode Island.
Nationally, per-pupil spending climbed steadily by at least 1 percent per year from 1996 to 2008, when the nation began to feel the effects of the housing market crash and, subsequently, the recession. Spending hit a plateau and then fell more than 1 percent in 2011.
Per-pupil spending is “the gold standard in school finance,” said Stephen Cornman, of the National Center for Education Statistics, which produced the analysis. The three-year decline after such a long period of rising expenditures is “significant,” he said.
The new federal data were released on the heels of a report by the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that state governments in at least 31 states are contributing less to public education than they did in 2008, before the recession.
“Our country’s future depends crucially on the quality of its schools, yet rather than raising K-12 funding to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education, many states have headed in the opposite direction,” the nonprofit’s report said. “These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.”
State funding accounts for about 45 percent of schools’ revenue, and it declined two-tenths of a percent in 2013 compared with the year before, according to the new federal data. Federal spending on education dropped more dramatically — by nearly 10 percent — as the last of the federal economic stimulus dollars dried up.
In contrast, local governments ponied up nearly 1 percent more for education in 2013 than in 2012. But in most states, local governments depend on property taxes to raise money for education, which means that poor communities have less wherewithal than affluent ones to fill budget holes.
The National Center for Education Statistics also released spending figures Wednesday for the 100 largest school districts in the nation. The numbers ranged from $5,539 per pupil in Utah’s Alpine School District to $20,331 in New York City. After New York, the highest-spending large districts were in Boston, Philadelphia and Anchorage.
Four of the 11 highest-spending large districts were in the Washington area, reflecting the region’s relative wealth and high cost of living. Montgomery County was ranked fifth, spending $15,080 per student; Howard County was seventh, at $14,884; Prince George’s County was ninth, at $14,101; and Fairfax County was 11th, at $13,670.
Baltimore City schools ranked sixth, spending $15,050 per student. The D.C. school system is not among the nation’s 100 largest.
Below is a list of per-pupil spending by state, from highest to lowest:
|District of Columbia||$20,530|