When it comes to public education, not every place is equal. Differences in tax rates, government spending and fund allocation can make a big difference when it comes to how much schools can afford to spend on their students.
According to a new study by MagnifyMoney.com, the New York City metro area spends the most money per student on education. Hartford, Conn., and Buffalo, N.Y., metros round out the top three, according to our research, which looked at public education spending among the country’s 50 largest metros.
In addition to looking at overall spending, we also looked at education spending in four categories:
- Instruction (including teacher pay and benefits)
- Pupil support and instruction support
- Capital expenditures (money spent on fixed assets like facilities, land and equipment)
- Everything else (including school and district administrator pay and benefits; transportation costs and salaries; and interest payments on debt, among other things)
Here are some of our key findings, which are based on an analysis of the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance data set (the most recent available):
- The average metro spent a total of $12,807 per student each year.
- On average, $6,691 of total expenditures per student were spent on instructional costs (including teacher pay and benefits).
- Northeastern metros like Hartford, Philadelphia and Boston spent the most.
- Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Oklahoma City spent the least per student among the 50 largest metros.
Places that spend the most on public education
1. New York
Total expenditures for the New York metro total $24,180 per student, nearly $3,000 more than the next metro on the list, and the area spends more than twice the national average on instructional costs (including teacher pay and benefits). The metro area encompasses more than just New York City, which has the country’s largest board of education, serves more than 1 million students and has an operating budget for the 2017-2018 academic year of $25 billion.
Big spending doesn’t mean that residents are happy with that they’re getting: Across the river in New Jersey, the citizens of Newark just voted to replace all the school board members who were up for election, albeit with only five percent voter turnaround. In the tiny suburbs north of the city, parents are demanding more say in how to compensate district superintendents, who receive higher salaries and perks than elsewhere in the country.
2. Hartford, Conn.
Totaling $21,417 per student, Hartford comes in at a distant second to New York. While the Hartford mayor’s budget promises the same local funding for next year as for the current school year, the school board has planned school consolidations, much to the distress of some local parents. New London, another community in the metro, continues to seek additional funding as it tries to become the state’s first all-magnet school district. Hartford’s funding per student dropped by $173 per student for the 2016-2017 academic year, and further cuts are looming. Still, the metro spent $11,878 per student on instructional expenses in 2015, drastically more than all but a handful of places.
3. Buffalo, N.Y.
In addition to spending $12,051 per student on instruction ($173 more than Hartford), Buffalo spent $1,632 on capital outlays per student, which is over $600 more than the average for the metros we reviewed. City schools recently undertook a multibillion-dollar construction and building project that is currently the subject of a lawsuit alleging improper profiteering on the part of the developer. These relatively high levels of education funding could be in jeopardy, as the district warns of a $16 million shortfall following changes to state funding. Overall, spending per student was $20,733 in 2015.
The Philadelphia metro may have spent the fourth largest amount per student at $20,386, but that doesn’t mean they have the budget to do everything they feel is necessary. The city of Philadelphia itself had planned to use a sweetened beverage tax to build more community schools, but a lawsuit seeking to block the new tax has suspended those plans. In another part of the metro, Camden, N.J., one of the most impoverished communities in America, seems to have had a great turnaround after the state stepped in to take care of its failing schools. The metro spent $11,127 on instructional costs.
The Pittsburgh metro pulled into fifth place with a total expenditure per student of $18,403, exactly $400 more than Boston, which actually spent $618 more instruction. The metro also spent less on pupil support ($150) than any other city in the top 15. Not all parts of the metro are in the same shape, however. New contracts in the city itself will give teachers raises and reassess how those raises are granted. But in the affluent suburb of Plum Borough, some teachers will lose their jobs thanks to a school consolidation intended to close a $5 million deficit in the district.
Places that spend the least on public school instruction
50. Salt Lake City
At just $7,630 of educational spending per student, with $4,056 of that going toward instruction, the Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem metro ranks last among the nation’s top 50 metros. In fact, the metro spent less than any other metro in three of the four spending categories: total instructional spending per student, pupil and instructional support and everything else. Those numbers may increase as the state has pledged to fund an additional $845 per student, but that would still leave Salt Lake City among the lowest funded metros. Despite the lack of funding, graduation rates in Provo are rising.
Phoenix squeaks into second-to-last place at $8,289 in total spending per student, and at $4,061, it spent $5 more per student on instructional spending than the Salt Lake City metro. (Metros on this list averaged $6,691 of instructional spending per student.) Low pay has apparently made teacher recruitment difficult, and at least one Phoenix district eliminated some positions to boost starting salaries in hopes of filling 65 vacancies. While teachers recently voted in favor of a walkout for additional funding, 1,000 Phoenix community members volunteered to help spruce up a couple of schools that lack sufficient maintenance budgets.
48. Oklahoma City
The Oklahoma City metro’s $8,898 per student places it just above Phoenix on our list, which is almost $4,000 below average for the metros on the list. Teachers across the state made headlines with their recently concluded strike on behalf of more school funding (including salaries), but that doesn’t seem to have eased funding tensions in Oklahoma City, where its 13th superintendent since 2000 has threatened to quit over disputes about where to cut from the district budget. Instructional spending was $4,286 per student, and the area stood out from other metros on the bottom of the list by spending $1,172 per student on capital expenditure (Phoenix spent $630, and 47th-place Las Vegas spent $242).
47. Las Vegas
The Las Vegas metro crosses into the state of Arizona, which we noted above is undergoing a school funding crisis. Nevada has been able to recruit teachers from Arizona with higher pay, thanks to changes in teacher funding since this data was collected in 2015. Administrative changes may be coming to Las Vegas, as Clark County is only considering outside candidates to be the next superintendent. Altogether, the metro spent $8,928 per student, including $4,748 for instructional spending. Interestingly, they only spent $242 on capital expenditures, the least of any of the 50 metros.
46. Jacksonville, Fla.
Things haven’t gotten easier for Florida’s biggest metro since 2015, when they spent $9,300 per student, of which $5,219 was instructional spending. Earlier this year Jacksonville was hit with blackouts and record flooding from Hurricane Irma, creating additional costs for the area. Additionally, the Duval County school district has to cut $62 million from its budget.
Our study was based on the most recent information from the U.S. Census Bureau, found in the individual unit tables of the 2015 Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data. The findings were calculated on a per-enrolled-student basis, and our research only includes the nation’s largest 50 combined statistical areas.