by Mardee Handler, managing editor

It is not necessarily true that spending more money on students – based on per-pupil expenditures – translates into student performance. At least that’s what the numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) suggest.

Funding for education comprises a significant portion of state general fund expenditures. “In fiscal 2011, elementary and secondary (K-12) education represented the largest category of state general fund spending at 35.0 percent,” according to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO).

As the number one performer in reading and math test scores, Massachusetts appears to be efficiently putting its money to work without having the most teachers per student.

The Survey of State Government Finances (released by the U.S. Census Bureau) revealed that in 2012, expenditures for education comprised more than 40 percent of general expenditures in 13 states.

Which states spend the most per student?

While information on per-pupil revenues and expenditures from the NCES is reported on a lagged basis, the most recent data available shows that the District of Columbia spent the most – $24,358 per student – for the 2009-2010 school year. The state of New York was next in line, spending $20,495 per student.

The table below shows the ten states (including U.S. districts and territories) with the highest per-pupil expenditures for fiscal 2010. It also shows whether there is any correlation between high spending, the pupil-teacher ratio, and most importantly, educational performance based on reading and math scores and national rankings.

Top 10 States Ranked by Total Current Expenditures per Pupil (2009-2010 School Year)

  Per-Pupil Expenditures Pupil-Teacher Ratio/ Ranking Reading Score/ Ranking Math Score/ Ranking
1.  District of Columbia $24,358 12.03 (#4) 242 260
2.  New York $20,495 12.92 (#10) 266 280
3.  Wyoming $19,238 12.49 (#6) 270 (#6 tie) 288 (#9 tie)
4.  New Jersey $18,737 12.73 (#8) 275 (#1 tie) 294 (#3 tie)
5.  Alaska $17,951 16.17 261 283
6.  Connecticut $17,611 13.05 275 (#1 tie) 287 (#10 tie)
7.  Vermont $17,007 11.56 (#3) 274 (#2) 294 (#3 tie)
8.  Massachusetts $15,790 13.90 275 (#1 tie) 299 (#1)
9.  Rhode Island $15,753 12.83 (#9) 265 283
10. Maryland $15,566 14.59 271 (#5 tie) 288
  • If the state ranked in the top ten among all U.S. states, districts and territories, the ranking is shown in parenthesis following the Pupil-Teacher Ratio, Reading and Math Scores)
  • Per-Pupil Expenditures in this table reflect most recent data available (fiscal 2010), while other data is as of the 2010-2011 school year (fiscal 2011).
  • Reading and Math Scores are based on statewide standardized tests administered to all 8th graders.
  • Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Elementary/Secondary Information System (ELSi) and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Observations and Correlations:

– Of the ten states with the highest per-pupil expenditures, six also ranked among the top ten for lowest pupil-teacher ratio. Generally, states that spend a lot of money per student hire more teachers.
– Only three of the ten states with highest per-pupil expenditures – Wyoming, New Jersey, and Vermont – also ranked among the top ten states for lowest pupil-teacher ratio and highest reading and math scores.

– The District of Columbia, with the highest expenditures per pupil and among the five lowest pupil-teacher ratios in the country, had the lowest reading (242) and math (260) scores of all states. Consequently, spending more money on schools did not have the desired impact on student performance.

Massachusetts, whose students earned the highest scores in both reading (275) and math (299), was among the top ten states for per-pupil expenditures, but its pupil-teacher ratio (13.9) ranks #18 in the nation. As the number one performer in reading and math test scores, Massachusetts appears to be efficiently putting its money to work without having the most teachers per student.

– Per-pupil expenditures ranged from a high of $24,358 in the District of Columbia to a low of $6,043 in the Northern Marianas. Others on the low end of the spectrum included Puerto Rico ($7,955), Utah ($8,102), Idaho ($8,234), and Oklahoma ($8,651).

– Pupil-teacher ratios ranged from a low of 10.63 in the U.S. Virgin Islands to a high of 24.12 in California for the 2010-2011 (fiscal 2011) school year. The average (mean) pupil-teacher ratio for the U.S. was 15.9.