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School Spending Ticks Up; Charters Still Spend Significantly Less

Schools loosened their belts a little, in spite of lower federal support, according to new federal data from fiscal 2014.

That year, the median school district spent about $10,300 per student, up about 1 percent from fiscal 2012. The uptick was driven by higher spending in suburbs, towns and rural areas; urban districts actually spent a little less. 

At the same time, federal support for those districts dropped by more than 4 percent, to $54.2 billion, from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014. In 16 states, more than 40 percent of school district budgets come from local property taxes and city or county funds. 

The report comes from the Education Department's Common Core of Data, which collects annual data on school spending and other indicators in more than 18,600 school districts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Charter Financial Data Limited

Only half of states reported high-quality financial data for both charter and noncharter school districts. Of the 25 states that did report, the data showed charter schools spent 10 percent less per student on average than traditional district schools. Interestingly, the gap showed most in instruction:

Charter non charter school spending.JPG

From Alpine to Boston

The 73,000-student Alpine district in Utah had the lowest spending among the 100 largest districts in the country, at just over $5,600 per student in fiscal 2014. That was little more than a quarter of the per-pupil spending in Boston or New York City public schools, which each topped $21,000.

To be sure, basic cost-of-living is higher in the Northeast than in Utah, and Boston and New York districts dwarf Alpine's size. However, the Utah district also spent about half as much per student as the Fresno, Calif. district, which had about the same number of students. A few differences between the districts could explain that spending: Alpine had more than 16 percent of teachers in their first or second year, compared to Fresno's 7 percent, while a quarter of Fresno's students in 2013-14 were learning English, compared to only 4 percent in Alpine. 

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