How School Funding Falls Short, by the Numbers
America’s complicated public school funding system results in wildly unequal conditions for school districts and their students depending on their state.
This is the main point from Making the Grade 2022the latest iteration of an annual report from the nonprofit Education Law Center on school finance differences among states.
Using 2020 U.S. Census data on school funding, the report analyzes combined state and local spending on K-12 schools using three metrics. This year’s report, released in December, also cites data from 2008 to 2020 to illustrate how school funding evolved between the start of the Great Recession and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many states, the picture was better before the recession hit than it is now.
The analysis of the report is organized into three categories:
- Level of funding: How much money do schools get per pupil?
- Funding distribution: How much more money do high-poverty districts get than lower-poverty districts?
- Funding efforts: How much do states provide for schools relative to their total gross domestic product?
Here’s a by-the-numbers guide to understanding the school funding landscape as illustrated in the report.
Change over time
6. This is the number of states where funding fell by more than 10 percent between 2008 and 2020. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Wyoming. More than a dozen others saw funding level or decline as much as 10 percent during that period.
18. The percentage decline in Florida funding for school districts between 2008 and 2020, from $14,065 per pupil to $11,509 per pupil. This is the largest decline of any state.
How much money have school districts received?
11. Number of states where average funding per pupil was less than the national average by more than $3,000. Districts in Arizona and Nevada, the two states with the lowest per-pupil funding on average, received more than $5,000 less per student than the national average, which was $15,446 per student.
$16,000. Approximate difference in average funding per pupil between states with the lowest and highest levels of funding. On the low end, Arizona and Nevada districts receive an average of $10,244 per student. Districts in New York and Vermont, the two highest-spending states, receive an average of $23,000 to $26,000 per student.
How states fared on the report’s assessment metrics
1. The number of states this year that received an “F” grade from the Education Law Center on all three metrics (funding level, funding distribution, and funding effort). That dubious honor goes to Nevada.
Educate Nevada Now, an advocacy group, weighed in on the report in a press release the day it was released.
“Seeing us at the bottom of the funding effort is the most disheartening aspect of this report, as it shows how indifferent and uncommitted Nevada is to the education of its students,” said Amanda Morgan, the group’s executive director. “We don’t value them despite having the financial capacity to do more.”
1. The number of states that received an “A” grade in all three metrics this year. The honor goes to Wyoming. Even there, however, satisfaction with school funding is not universal. The state teachers union is suing the state for allegedly failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools. A judge recently denied a motion to dismiss the case.
8. The number of states that scored an F on two of the three metrics. Nine states scored an A on two of the three metrics.
12. The number of states that scored an A or B on the crucial equity metric of funding distribution. Ten states scored an F.
How well states target resources for high-needs students
31. The number of states that lack school funding systems that direct more resources to districts with large percentages of students living in poverty.
6: Number of states where high-poverty districts receive at least 20 percent fewer dollars per pupil than low-poverty districts. For example, in New Hampshire, low-poverty districts receive an average of $19,121 per pupil, while high-poverty districts receive $13,923.
While most states fail to ensure that high-poverty districts receive proportionally more resources than low-poverty districts, a handful of states go above and beyond to address this gap. In Utah, high-poverty districts, on average, receive almost twice the average burden as low-poverty districts. Five other states provide at least 33 percent more dollars per pupil to high-poverty districts than to low-poverty ones.
$19,000. The gap between states with the highest and lowest average funding for high-poverty districts. It’s even larger than the gap between average school funding for states, regardless of poverty level. Nevada spends an average of just under $10,000 per pupil on low-poverty districts, while Wyoming spends roughly $29,000.
Share of state resources dedicated to K-12 schools
4. The percentage of gross domestic product that declares an A or B grade for effort dedicated to public schools. Eleven states devote more than 4 percent of that figure to public schools. Nine countries, meanwhile, devote less than 3 percent of their GDP to school spending.
752 billion dollars. The amount of additional money schools would have received nationwide if all states had maintained their 2008 level of effort through 2020. This is roughly equal to the total annual amount spent on schools. public funds in the United States, including federal, state, and local dollars.
32. The number of states that would have provided more funding per pupil now if they had maintained their 2008 level of effort through 2020. In 13 states, this figure would have increased by more than $2,000 per pupil .
A preview of what’s to come
49. The number of states that saw general fund revenues for the most recent fiscal year exceed their budget projections, according to the National Association of State Business Officers’ Fall 2022 State Fiscal Survey. In some cases, the final total was more than 20 percent above what was expected. Those numbers are already prompting advocates in many states to push for significant increases in funding for K-12 schools.