District of Columbia, Newark NJ & Buffalo NY Spent Most Per Pupil in 2010 Among Nation’s Large School Districts
Of the largest school districts in the U.S., the District of Columbia, Newark, NJ and Buffalo, NY spent the most per pupil in 2010, according to an analysis by Govistics of recently released U.S. Census of Governments data. Per pupil spending was about $29,400 in D.C.; $28,600 in Newark; and $26,900 in Buffalo.
Next highest in per pupil spending were the districts in New York, NY; Jersey City, NJ; Pittsburgh, PA; Rochester, NY; Cincinnati, OH; Boston, MA; and Cleveland, OH.
At the other end of the scale, the 10 districts with the lowest per pupil costs spent less ─ in some cases significantly less ─ than one-third the amount spent per pupil in 2010 in D.C., Newark or Buffalo, the Govistics analysis found. Govistics is a web-based product of the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) and provides interactive access to key government data on U.S. school districts and local governments.
Govistics examined total spending (e.g., instruction, administration, capital costs) for the 285 districts with enrollments of 25,000 or more students. The analysis found the 10 districts that spent the most per pupil and the 10 that spent the least were:
Spending Slow to Adjust with Enrollment
Districts appear to be slow to change spending with enrollment. Of the 21 districts that lost at least 10% of enrollment from 2005 to 2010, inflation-adjusted spending per student rose 16%. By contrast, in the 70 districts that grew at least 10%, inflation-adjusted spending per student dropped less than 1%, thus these districts essentially held spending constant.
The districts with the biggest enrollment gains and losses between 2005 and 2010 were:
Poverty is a Factor
Govistics’ ranking reports the share of students living below the federal poverty line in 2010. Districts with more than a quarter of their students in poverty spent an average (weighted for enrollment) of $15,000 per student compared with an average of $10,800 for the remaining large districts. Among the top 10 spenders, about one-third of students were below the federal poverty line. Cleveland and Cincinnati had the highest poverty in the group (45% and 40%, respectively), although Rochester (39%) and Buffalo (37%) were close behind. The simple connection between poverty and spending is not apparent when the entire group of large districts, both high poverty and low poverty, is considered.
Utah and California Stand Out Among Lowest Spending Group
One state – Utah – stands out for having a significant number of school districts (7) in the group that spent the least per pupil. Overall, large district per student spending in Utah ($7,743 in 2010) was 63% of the national average and 37% of top spender New York, whose large districts averaged $20,480. Five of California’s districts, where local education spending is limited by the state’s 1978 Proposition 13, were in the bottom 20. Los Angeles and San Francisco were the exceptions, ranking 33 and 34 in spending per student.
The lowest per pupil cost in 2010, however, belonged to Meridian, the largest district in Idaho with 49 schools in a 380-square-mile area near Boise. Cost per pupil for the district was about $6,900, unchanged from 2005 (after accounting for inflation).