IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Financing education: National, state, and local funding and spending for public schools in 2013

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Stephen Cornman

Spending on public education continues to fluctuate significantly among states and school districts, according to two NCES reports released Wednesday. The reports also show that, nationally, spending on elementary and secondary education declined for the fourth straight year.

The two First Look reports, Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013) and Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013), are based on data from the National Public Education Finance Survey (NPEFS), a component of the Common Core of Data (CCD).

In 2013, expenditures for public elementary and secondary education totaled $606.5 billion, which translates to $10,763 in per student spending[i] on a national level. Public elementary and secondary school finance can vary considerably depending on the state or school district.

At the state level, spending per student ranged from a low of $6,432 in Utah to $20,530 in the District of Columbia (D.C.). After D.C., per student spending was next highest in:

  • New York ($19,529);
  • New Jersey ($18,523);
  • Alaska ($18,217);
  • Connecticut ($17,321); and
  • Vermont ($17,286).

Current expenditures per pupil for public and secondary education, by state: Fiscal year 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “National Public Education Financial Survey


Among the 100 largest school districts in the nation, those with the highest spending per student were:

  • New York City School District ($20,331);
  • Boston City Schools, Massachusetts ($19,066);
  • Philadelphia School District, Pennsylvania ($16,381);
  • Anchorage School District, Alaska ($15,391);
  • Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland ($15,080); and
  • Baltimore City Schools, Maryland ($15,050).

As a nation, we spend more per-student on elementary and secondary public education than we did 10 years ago, but 2013 represents the fourth straight year that our national per-student spending has fallen.  In order to compare spending from one year to the next, expenditures are converted to constant dollars, which adjusts figures for inflation. From 2002–03 to 2012–13, spending per student enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. increased by 5 percent (from $10,455 to $11,011 in constant 2014–15 dollars). Spending per student increased at least 1 percent per year between 2003–04 and 2007–08, and peaked in 2008–09 at $11,621. It has decreased each year since then, with the greatest decrease occurring from 2008–09 to 2011–12.  


Current spending per student in fall enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools: 2002–03 through 2012–13

NOTE: Spending is reported in constant 2014–15 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," 2002–03 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 236.65.


The recently released reports also present national and state level data on public school funding[ii] by source. Total funding per pupil decreased by 1.2 percent on a national basis and decreased by 1 percent or more in 26 states from 2012 to 2013, after adjusting for inflation. The 50 states and D.C. reported $603.7 billion in funding collected for public elementary and secondary education in 2013. State and local governments provided $547.8 billion, or 91 percent of all funding; and the federal government contributed $55.9 billion or 9 percent of all funding.

The percentage of total funding from federal sources accounted for 9 percent of total funding in both 2002–03 and 2012–13; however, there were notable fluctuations during this period. The federal percentage increased from 8 percent of funding 2007–08 to 13 percent of funding in 2010–11. This increase reflects the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As the funds from the program were spent, the federal percentage decreased to 10 percent of total funding in 2011–12 and to 9 percent in 2012–13. Local sources accounted for 46 percent of total funding in 2012–13, the highest percentage in the past 10 years. The percentage of total funding from state sources decreased from 49 percent in school year 2002–03 to 45 percent in school year 2012–13.


Percentage of funding for public elementary and secondary schools, by source of funds: 2002-03 through 2012-13

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," 2002–03 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 235.10.


[i] Spending refers to current expenditures.Current expenditures are comprised of expenditures for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts for public elementary and secondary education, including expenditures for staff salaries and benefits, supplies, and purchased services. Current expenditures include instruction, instruction-related, support services (e.g., social work, health, and psychological services), and other elementary/secondary current expenditures, but exclude expenditures on capital outlay, other programs, and interest on long-term debt. 

[ii] Funding refers to revenues. Revenues are comprised of all funds received from external sources, net of refunds, and correcting transactions. Noncash transactions, such as receipt of services, commodities, or other receipts in kind are excluded, as are funds received from the issuance of debt, liquidation of investments, and nonroutine sale of property.