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National Center for Education Statistics

Public Charter School Expenditures by School Level

How do we achieve the best education results for the best price? This is a central question among researchers and policymakers alike. In this blog post, we share outcomes from school year 2017–18 concerning public charter school spending at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to help inform the discussion on charter school costs and benefits to the broader education system.

The first modern charter law in the United States was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Since that time, the number of charter schools has grown tremendously as an option in public elementary and secondary education. In 2017–18, the United States had 7,086 public charter schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In a decade, from 2007–08 to 2017–18, the number of public charter schools in the United States increased more than 70 percent, representing a little more than 7 percent of all public schools at the end of this time period (figure 1).


Figure 1. Number of public charter schools in the United States: School years 2007–08 through 2017–18

Line graph showing the number of public charter schools in the United States for school years 2007–08 through 2017–18

NOTE: These data include counts of operational public elementary/secondary charter schools for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), 2007–08 through 2017–18.


Nearly half (47 percent) of all public charter schools in the United States are classified as elementary schools, 11 percent are classified as middle schools, and 28 percent are classified as high schools (figure 2). The remainder (14 percent) have other grade-level configurations and do not fall into any of these categories.


Figure 2. Percentage of public charter schools in the United States, by school level: School year 2017–18

Pie chart showing percentage of public charter schools in the United States, by school level (elementary, middle, high, and other) for school year 2017–18

NOTE: These data reflect operational public elementary/secondary charter schools for the 50 states and the District of Columbia from the Common Core of Data (CCD) for 2017. School-level categories are taken from the Documentation to NCES’ Common Core of Data for school year 2017–18, whereby “Elementary” includes schools with students enrolled in grades K–4 that offer more elementary grades than middle grades; “Middle” includes schools with students enrolled in grades 5–8 that offer more middle grades than elementary or secondary grades; “High” includes schools with students enrolled in grade 12 and other secondary grades that offer more high grades than middle grades; and “Other” includes schools with both elementary and high grades or grades at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high). Excludes 2,360 schools categorized in the CCD as adult education, not applicable, not reported, prekindergarten-only, secondary, and ungraded.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


According to expenditure data captured in the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), public schools in the United States spent $330.94 billion in 2017–18, or more than $6,600 per pupil. Reports of national school expenditures based on data from the CRDC are significantly lower than those estimated using the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) from the Common Core of Data (CCD). This could be attributed to data on spending for school nutrition, operations and maintenance, and transportation being captured in the NPEFS but not collected in the CRDC. However, the CRDC data allow for comparisons of public charter and noncharter schools at the school level. In 2017–18, spending among public noncharter schools fell just under the national average of $6,500 per pupil. Like other schools in the U.S. public school system, charter schools do not charge tuition and instead receive district and state funding based on their enrollment. Public charter schools spent more than $26.83 billion in 2017–18, or just more than $8,900 per pupil, thus exceeding the national average.

The per pupil school expenditures of public charter schools across school levels1 are different from those of public noncharter schools. This analysis compares spending between public elementary, middle, and high schools in 2017–18. (Mixed-level and other schools are excluded because they have variable grade levels and other characteristics that can make expenditures incomparable across school types.) Across school levels, per pupil expenditures among public charter schools exceeded the national average, while per pupil expenditures among public noncharter schools were closer to the national average. Specifically, for public charter schools, per pupil expenditures were highest for elementary schools ($8,400), followed by high schools ($8,200) and middle schools ($8,100) (figure 3). However, for public noncharter schools, per pupil expenditures were highest for high schools ($6,600), followed by elementary schools ($6,400) and middle schools ($6,100).


Figure 3. Per pupil public school expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18  

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

 

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


The CRDC splits school expenditures into personnel or staff expenditures (e.g., salaries of teachers and of instructional, support, and administrative staff) and nonpersonnel expenditures (e.g., the cost of books, computers, instructional supplies, and professional development for teachers). (Nonpersonnel expenditures do not include those for school nutrition, operations, maintenance, or transportation to and from school.) Figures 4 and 5 show that across school levels in 2017–18, both public charter and noncharter schools tended to spend more per pupil on salaries and less per pupil on nonpersonnel expenditures. The differences between public charter and noncharter schools are particularly noticeable in comparisons of nonpersonnel expenditures, where charter schools spent considerably more per pupil than noncharter schools, most prominently at the elementary school level ($3,400 vs. $800). The figures also show that among public charter schools, middle schools had higher salary expenditures but lower nonpersonnel expenditures than did elementary or high schools. These findings demonstrate the importance of considering school level when examining public charter school spending.


Figure 4. Per pupil public school salary expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school salary expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


Figure 5. Per pupil public school nonpersonnel expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school nonpersonnel expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


Thoughts for Future Research

Since 2009, the CRDC—a mandatory data collection—has collected school expenditure data from elementary and secondary public schools and school districts. The 2017–18 findings suggest that public charter schools spent nearly 200 to 300 percent more on nonpersonnel expenditures per pupil than did public noncharter schools. However, there are concerns about districts’ ability to accurately report school expenditure data, including those for public charter schools. While the CRDC is currently the only complete national database of school-level spending, the CCD has partial school-level fiscal data for about 30 states, and NCES is making an effort to increase this voluntary reporting. Future studies could include a more targeted analysis of spending among public charter schools by geographic settings, student enrollee characteristics, school size, and school type.

Civil Rights Data Collection

Since 1968, the U.S. Department of Education has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. The CRDC collects a variety of information, including data on student enrollment and educational programs and services, most of which is disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. The CRDC informs the Office of Civil Rights’ overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. The CRDC collects data only from public schools (i.e., no data are collected from private schools). The CRDC data files can be found here: https://ocrdata.ed.gov/.

 

By Jennifer Hudson, Ph.D., and Jennifer Sable (AIR) and Christopher D. Hill, Ph.D. (NCES)


[1] For the purposes of this blog post, school-level categories are taken from the Documentation to NCES’ Common Core of Data for SY 2017–18:  “Elementary” includes schools with students enrolled in grades K through 4 that offer more elementary grades than middle grades. “Middle” includes schools with students enrolled in grades 5 through 8 that offer more middle grades than elementary or secondary grades. “High” include schools with students enrolled in grade 12 and other secondary grades that offer more high grades than middle grades.  “Other” includes schools with both elementary and high grades or grades at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the school year comes to a close, many families are considering opportunities to continue learning over the summer months. Summer learning has often been seen as a way to supplement instruction during the regular school year. The U.S. Department of Education’s “COVID-19 Handbook” notes that summer learning “can offer another opportunity to accelerate learning, especially for those students most impacted by disruptions to learning during the school year.” Data from the Household Pulse Survey (HPS), which NCES developed in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal statistical agencies, explores access to summer learning opportunities by school type, racial/ethnic group, household educational attainment level, and income level.

The HPS1 provides data on how people’s lives have been impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Phase 3.2 of the HPS introduced questions on the summer education activities of children enrolled in public or private school or homeschooled, following the end of the normal school year in spring 2021. Adults 18 years old and over who had children under 18 in the home enrolled in school were asked if any of the children had attended a traditional summer school program because of poor grades; attended a summer school program to help catch up with lost learning time during the pandemic; attended school-led summer camps for subjects like math, science, or reading; and/or worked with private tutors to help catch up with lost learning time during the pandemic. Adults were allowed to select all categories that applied. Data from Phase 3.2 of the HPS, covering September 15 to 27, 2021, are discussed in this blog post.

Among adults with children enrolled in public or private school or homeschooled, 26 percent reported children were enrolled in any summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in spring of 2021 (figure 1). The most reported summer education activity was attending a summer school program to catch up on lost learning time during the pandemic (10 percent). Eight percent reported children attended school-led summer camps for subjects like math, science, or reading and 7 percent each reported children attended a traditional summer school program because of poor grades or worked with private tutors to catch up with lost learning time during the pandemic.


Figure 1. Among adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school, percentage reporting participation in summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in spring of 2021, by type of summer activity: September 15 to 27, 2021

Bar chart showing percentage of adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school reporting participation in summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in Spring of 2021, by type of summer activity, from the September 15 to 27, 2021, phase of the Household Pulse Survey

1 Does not equal the total of the subcategories because respondents could report multiple types of summer education activities.
NOTE: Data in this figure are considered experimental and do not meet NCES standards for response rates. The 2021 Household Pulse Survey, an experimental data product, is an Interagency Federal Statistical Rapid Response Survey to Measure Household Experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with 16 other federal agencies and offices. The number of respondents and response rate for the period reported in this table were 59,833 and 5.6 percent. The final weights are designed to produce estimates for the total persons age 18 and older living within housing units. These weights were created by adjusting the household level sampling base weights by various factors to account for nonresponse, adults per household, and coverage. For more information, see https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/technical-documentation.html. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.  
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, September 15 to 27, 2021. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 227.60.


There were no significant differences in the overall percentage of adults reporting any summer education activities for their children by school type (public school, private school, or homeschooled). However, there were differences in the most common type of summer education activity reported for those with children in public school versus private school. Among adults with children in public school, the most reported summer activity was attending a summer school program to catch up with lost learning during the pandemic (11 percent) (figure 2). Among adults with children in private school, higher percentages reported children attended school-led summer camps for subjects like math, science, or reading or worked with private tutors to catch up with lost learning time during the pandemic (11 percent, each), compared with the percentage who reported children attended a traditional summer school program because of poor grades (3 percent). There were no significant differences among adults with homeschooled children by type of summer education activity.


Figure 2. Among adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school, percentage reporting participation in summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in spring of 2021, by control of school and type of summer activity: September 15 to 27, 2021

Bar chart showing percentage of adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school reporting participation in summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in Spring of 2021, by control of school and type of summer activity, from the September 15 to 27, 2021, phase of the Household Pulse Survey

NOTE: Figure excludes percentage of adults reporting any summer education activities for their children or that their children did not participate in any summer activities. Data in this figure are considered experimental and do not meet NCES standards for response rates. The 2021 Household Pulse Survey, an experimental data product, is an Interagency Federal Statistical Rapid Response Survey to Measure Household Experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with 16 other federal agencies and offices. The number of respondents and response rate for the period reported in this table were 59,833 and 5.6 percent. The final weights are designed to produce estimates for the total persons age 18 and older living within housing units. These weights were created by adjusting the household level sampling base weights by various factors to account for nonresponse, adults per household, and coverage. For more information, see https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/technical-documentation.html. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, September 15 to 27, 2021. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 227.60.


Children’s participation in any summer education activities in the summer of 2021 varied across racial/ethnic groups. The percentage of adults reporting any summer activities for their children was higher for Black adults (44 percent) than for all other racial/ethnic groups (figure 3). While lower than the percentage of Black adults reporting any summer activities for their children, the percentages of Asian and Hispanic adults (33 and 32 percent, respectively) were both higher than the percentage of White adults (20 percent).


Figure 3. Among adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school, percentage reporting participation in any summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in spring of 2021, by adult’s race/ethnicity: September 15 to 27, 2021

Bar chart showing percentage of adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school reporting participation in summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in Spring of 2021, by adult’s race/ethnicity, from the September 15 to 27, 2021, phase of the Household Pulse Survey

1 Includes persons reporting Pacific Islander alone, persons reporting American Indian/Alaska Native alone, and persons of Two or more races.
NOTE: Data in this figure are considered experimental and do not meet NCES standards for response rates. The 2021 Household Pulse Survey, an experimental data product, is an Interagency Federal Statistical Rapid Response Survey to Measure Household Experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with 16 other federal agencies and offices. The number of respondents and response rate for the period reported in this table were 59,833 and 5.6 percent. The final weights are designed to produce estimates for the total persons age 18 and older living within housing units. These weights were created by adjusting the household level sampling base weights by various factors to account for nonresponse, adults per household, and coverage. For more information, see https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/technical-documentation.html. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, September 15 to 27, 2021. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 227.60.            


There were also some differences observed in reported participation rates in summer education activities by the responding adult’s highest level of educational attainment. Children in households where the responding adult had completed less than high school were more likely to participate in summer education activities (39 percent) than were those in households where the responding adult had completed some college or an associate’s degree (25 percent), a bachelor’s degree (22 percent), or a graduate degree (25 percent) (figure 4). Similarly, children in households where the responding adult had completed high school2 were more likely to participate in summer education activities (28 percent) than were those in households where the responding adult had completed a bachelor’s degree (22 percent). There were no significant differences in children’s participation rates between other adult educational attainment levels.


Figure 4. Among adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school, percentage reporting participation in any summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in spring of 2021, by adult’s highest level of educational attainment: September 15 to 27, 2021

Bar chart showing percentage of adults 18 years old and over who had children under age 18 in the home enrolled in school reporting participation in summer education activities after the end of the normal school year in Spring of 2021, by adult’s highest level of educational attainment, from the September 15 to 27, 2021, phase of the Household Pulse Survey

1 High school completers include those with a high school diploma as well as those with an alternative credential, such as a GED.
NOTE: Data in this figure are considered experimental and do not meet NCES standards for response rates. The 2021 Household Pulse Survey, an experimental data product, is an Interagency Federal Statistical Rapid Response Survey to Measure Household Experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with 16 other federal agencies and offices. The number of respondents and response rate for the period reported in this table were 59,833 and 5.6 percent. The final weights are designed to produce estimates for the total persons age 18 and older living within housing units. These weights were created by adjusting the household level sampling base weights by various factors to account for nonresponse, adults per household, and coverage. For more information, see https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/technical-documentation.html. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.  
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, September 15 to 27, 2021. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 227.60


The percentage of adults reporting that children participated in summer education activities also varied across households with different levels of income in 2020. The percentages of adults reporting that children participated in any summer education activities were higher for those with a 2020 household income of less than $25,000 (34 percent) and $25,000 to $49,999 (33 percent) than for all other higher household income levels. There were no significant differences in reported participation rates among adults with 2020 household income levels of $50,000 to $74,999, $75,000 to $99,999, $100,000 to $149,999, and $150,000 or more.

Learn more about the Household Pulse Survey and access data tables, public use files, and an interactive data tool. For more detailed data on the summer education activities discussed in this blog post, explore the Digest of Education Statistics, table 227.60. To access other data on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education, explore our School Pulse Panel dashboard.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up-to-date on the latest findings and trends in education, including those on summer learning activities.

 

By Ashley Roberts, AIR


[1] The speed of the survey development and the pace of the data collection efforts led to policies and procedures for the experimental HPS that were not always consistent with traditional federal survey operations. For example, the timeline for the surveys meant that opportunities to follow up with nonrespondents were very limited. This has led to response rates of 1 to 10 percent, which are much lower than the typical target response rate set in most federal surveys. While the responses have been statistically adjusted so that they represent the nation and states in terms of geographic distribution, sex, race/ethnicity, age, and educational attainment, the impact of survey bias has not been fully explored.

[2] High school completers include those with a high school diploma as well as those with an alternative credential, such as a GED.

Announcing the Condition of Education 2022 Release

NCES is pleased to present the 2022 edition of the Condition of Education. The Condition is part of a 150-year tradition at NCES and provides historical and contextual perspectives on key measures of educational progress to Congress and the American public. This report uses data from across NCES and from other sources and is designed to help policymakers and the public monitor the latest developments and trends in U.S. education.

Cover of Report on the Condition of Education with IES logo and photos of children reading and writing

The foundation of the Condition of Education is a series of online indicators. Fifty-two of these indicators include content that has been updated this year. Each indicator provides detailed information on a unique topic, ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, as well as labor force outcomes and international comparisons. In addition to the online indicator system, a synthesized overview of findings across topics is presented in the Report on the Condition of Education.

This year, we are excited to begin the rollout of interactive figures. These new interactive figures will empower users to explore the data in different ways. A selection of these indicators are highlighted here. They show various declines in enrollment that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic, from early childhood through postsecondary education. (Click the links below to explore the new interactive figures!)

  • From 2019 to 2020, enrollment rates of young children fell by 6 percentage points for 5-year-olds (from 91 to 84 percent) and by 13 percentage points for 3- to 4-year-olds (from 54 to 40 percent).
  • Public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12 dropped from 50.8 million in fall 2019 to 49.4 million students in fall 2020. This 3 percent drop brought total enrollment back to 2009 levels (49.4 million), erasing a decade of steady growth.
  • At the postsecondary level, total undergraduate enrollment decreased by 9 percent from fall 2009 to fall 2020 (from 17.5 million to 15.9 million students). For male and female students, enrollment patterns exhibited similar trends between 2009 and 2019 (both decreasing by 5 percent). However, from 2019 to 2020, female enrollment fell 2 percent, while male enrollment fell 7 percent. Additionally, between 2019 and 2020, undergraduate enrollment fell 5 percent at public institutions and 2 percent at private nonprofit institutions. In contrast, undergraduate enrollment at for-profit institutions was 4 percent higher in fall 2020 than in fall 2019, marking the first positive single year change in enrollments at these institutions since 2010. Meanwhile, at the postbaccalaureate level, enrollment increased by 10 percent between fall 2009 and fall 2020 (from 2.8 million to 3.1 million students).
  • Educational attainment is associated with economic outcomes, such as employment and earnings, as well as with changes in these outcomes during the pandemic. Compared with 2010, employment rates among 25- to 34-year-olds were higher in 2021 only for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree (84 vs 86 percent). For those who had completed high school and those with some college, employment rates increased from 2010 to 2019, but these gains were reversed to 68 and 75 percent, respectively, during the coronavirus pandemic. For those who had not completed high school, the employment rate was 53 percent in 2021, which was not measurably different from 2019 or 2010.

This year’s Condition also includes two spotlight indicators. These spotlights use data from the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) to examine education during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Homeschooled Children and Reasons for HomeschoolingThis spotlight opens with an examination of historical trends in homeschooling, using data from the National Household Education Survey (NHES). Then, using HPS, this spotlight examines the percentage of adults with students under 18 in the home who were homeschooled during the 2020–21 school year. Some 6.8 percent of adults with students in the home reported that at least one child was homeschooled in 2020–21. The percentage was higher for White adults (7.4 percent) than for Black adults (5.1 percent) and for Asian adults (3.6 percent). It was also higher for Hispanic adults (6.5 percent) than for Asian adults.
  • Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Fall Plans for Postsecondary Education: This spotlight uses HPS data to examine changes in plans for fall 2021 postsecondary education made in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Among adults 18 years old and over who had household members planning to take classes in fall 2021 from a postsecondary institution, 44 percent reported that there was no change for any household member in their fall plans for postsecondary classes. This is compared with 28 percent who reported no change in plans for at least one household member one year earlier in the pandemic, for fall 2020.

The Condition also includes an At a Glance section, which allows readers to quickly make comparisons within and across indicators, as well as a Reader’s Guide, a Glossary, and a Guide to Sources that provide additional information to help place the indicators in context. In addition, each indicator references the source data tables that were used to produce that indicator. Most of these are in the Digest of Education Statistics.

In addition to publishing the Condition of Education, NCES produces a wide range of other reports and datasets designed to help inform policymakers and the public about significant trends and topics in education. More information about the latest activities and releases at NCES may be found on our website or by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

 

By Peggy G. Carr, NCES Commissioner

Access an NCES Presentation on ECLS Reading Data From the IES Reading Summit

NCES staff presented information on reading data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) Program at the June 2021 Institute of Education Sciences (IES)/Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) Reading Summit. The ECLS data cover a wide range of reading-related topics, such as children’s reading knowledge and skills, home literacy activities, and teachers’ instructional practices. The presentation included a brief overview of three ECLS program studies and the reading-related data collected by each. In addition, the presentation included a discussion of the resources available to either see what research has been conducted with the data or explore the data independently. As the focus of the presentation was on data available to the public for secondary analysis, its target audience was researchers and others with a data science focus.

Access the Reading Summit presentation—Reading Data Available from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS)—and handout below to learn more about ECLS reading data.

Be sure to also check out this blog post to learn more about the work highlighted at the IES Reading Summit.

 

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll, NCES

Changes in Pupil/Teacher Ratios in 2020: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enormous challenges to the education system, including a historic decline in enrollment in fall 2020—the largest since during World War II. Due to the relatively small decrease in the number of teachers, there was a significant drop in the pupil/teacher ratio.  

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases key statistics, including school staffing data, compiled from state administrative records through the Common Core of Data (CCD). In 2019, about 48 percent of public school staff were teachers (3.2 million) and 13 percent were instructional aides (0.9 million). NCES’s new School Pulse Panel survey found that in January 2022, about 61 percent of public schools with at least one vacancy reported that the pandemic increased the number of teacher and staff vacancies, and 57 percent of schools with at least one vacancy found that the pandemic forced them to use teachers outside their normal duty areas.

Pupil/teacher ratios provide a measure of the quantity of instructional resources available to students by comparing the number of students with the total full-time equivalent (FTE) of all teachers, including special education teachers. The public and private elementary and secondary average class size is larger than the pupil/teacher ratio since it normally does not factor into team teaching, specialty teachers, or special education classes. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools1 decreased by 2.7 percent.2 This decrease was larger than the 0.2 percent (6,700)3 decrease in the number of public school teachers. Since fall 2020, public school enrollment decreased by a larger amount than did the number of teachers. Thus, the pupil/teacher ratio declined in school year 2020–21 by a relatively large 0.5 pupils per teacher, from 15.9 to 15.4 pupils per teacher (figure 1). This is the largest 1-year decrease in more than 4 decades. In comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was 11.4 in 2019–20 (the latest year of actual data available). It is worth noting that pupil/teacher ratios vary across schools with different characteristics (table 208.10).

Viewed over a longer term, the pupil/teacher ratio in public schools in 2019–20 (15.9) was only slightly lower than in 2010–11 (16.0), so nearly all the change during the 2010–11 to 2020–21 period occurred in the last year. The pupil/teacher ratio for private schools decreased from 12.5 in 2010–11 to 11.4 in 2019–20.


Figure 1. Pupil/teacher ratio in public and private elementary and secondary schools: 2010–11 to 2020–21

Line graph showing pupil/teacher ratio in public and private elementary and secondary schools from 2010–11 to 2020–21

NOTE: Data in this figure represent the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data for teachers are expressed in full-time equivalents (FTE). Counts of private school enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12 in schools offering kindergarten or higher grades. Counts of private school teachers exclude teachers who teach only prekindergarten students. Counts of public school teachers and enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12. The pupil/teacher ratio includes teachers for students with disabilities and other special teachers, while these teachers are generally excluded from class size calculations. Ratios for public schools reflect totals reported by states and differ from totals reported for schools or school districts.  The school year 2020–21 pupil/teacher ratio shown in this figure includes only states which reported both membership and FTE teacher counts for SY 2020–21.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 208.20; Common Core of Data, table 2.


The declines in pupil/teacher ratios in public schools were not consistent across states between 2019–20 and 2020–21 (figure 2). The relatively large enrollment decreases in many states—along with the smaller decreases or even increases in the number of teachers in fall 2020—led to decreases in the pupil/teacher ratios for most states. Three states (Nevada, Florida, and Ohio) reported increases in their pupil/teacher ratios, and the rest of the states reporting data had decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios. The states with the largest decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios were Indiana (-1.3 pupils per teacher), Arizona (-1.1 pupils per teacher), Kansas (-0.9 pupils per teacher), and Kentucky (-0.9 pupils per teacher).4


Figure 2. Change in pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: 2019–20 to 2020–21

Map of United States showing increases and decreases in pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools from 2019–20 to 2020–21

NOTE: Data for Illinois and Utah are not available.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey,” 2019–20 v.1a, table 2, and 2020–21 v.1a, table 2.

 

By Tom Snyder, AIR


[1] Counts of public school teachers and enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12.

[2] Enrollment data are for fall of the school year while pupil/teacher ratios are based on school years.

[3] Includes imputed teacher FTE data for Illinois and Utah.

[4] Although Oregon had a 2 pupil per teacher decrease based on the Summary Table 2 for 2019–20 and 2020–21, Oregon did not submit prekindergarten data for 2020–21, so the ratios were not comparable.