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Per Pupil Spending Down in Most States, According to Federal Data

By guest blogger Sarah Sparks

This post first appeared on the Inside School Research blog.

The economy might be recovering, but school districts are still feeling the pinch, according to new federal data.

The latest school district spending data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the median district got $11,745  per student in fiscal 2013, after adjusting for inflation, 1.8 percent less than the prior year. They spent $10,047 per student during the same time, a .5 percent decrease from fiscal 2012, suggesting administrators worked to buffer students from some of the budget cuts. 

However, revenues and expenditures didn't always rise and fall together. In Arizona, for example, revenue per student statewide increased 2.1 percent after inflation in fiscal 2013, but spending per student fell 7.8 percent during the same time. In Maryland, meanwhile, revenue per student fell 3.2 percent, but spending per student increased nearly 1 percent.

Part of districts' squeeze came from a cut of more than 10 percent in federal support for K-12 schools, from $61.7 billion in fiscal 2012 to $55.1 billion in fiscal 2013. On average, 37 percent of district budgets came from local property taxes, but in five states, districts depended on such contributions for more than half of their budgets.

Parent fundraising can make a big difference in cash-strapped schools, but research has also shown it can aggravate disparities between poor and wealthy districts and contribute to administrators' sense of lower-income parents being less involved in school. 

Charter Spending Differences 

Across 30 states and the District of Columbia, who reported spending for district and charter-run schools, charter schools spent more than $1,000 less per student than traditional schools did, both on total expenses ($8,900 versus $10,300) and on instruction ($5,000 versus $6,500). However, charters spent slightly more per student in fiscal 2013 on support services, such as building administration and transportation, $3,600 versus $3,400. 


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