NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

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.

Virtual schools: Measuring access to elementary and secondary education in online environments

By Mark Glander

Many people are familiar with the increasing availability of online education at the postsecondary level, but did you know that the number of virtual elementary and secondary schools is also growing? Virtual schools can offer flexibility to students who may have difficulty accessing or attending traditional schools, or as an alternative to homeschooling for parents who elect not to enroll their children in traditional brick and mortar schools. As the number of schools offering virtual education increases, it is important to be able to track these schools.

To gain a better understanding of the role virtual schools play in public elementary and secondary education, NCES added a flag identifying these schools to its Common Core of Data (CCD). The CCD is an annual collection of data from all public schools, public school districts, and state education agencies in the United States. The recently released School Year 2013–14 collection includes the new virtual school flag. For this purpose, a virtual school is defined as, “A public school that offers only instruction in which students and teachers are separated by time and/or location, and interaction occurs via computers and/or telecommunications technologies. A virtual school generally does not have a physical facility that allows students to attend classes on site.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia reported having one or more virtual schools for a total of 478 virtual schools in the U.S. in 2013–14. Florida reported the most of any state with a total of 182. A new data item is often under-reported in the first year of collection; ten states and other jurisdictions did not report having any virtual schools or reported virtual schools as not applicable (California, Delaware, North Dakota, Texas, Washington, the Department of Defense Education Activity, American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). 

All but 12 of the reported schools were “regular” schools, meaning they offered a general academic curriculum rather than one focused on special needs or vocational education. 

The CCD distinguishes several types of local education agencies, defined by their level of governance.  Almost all virtual schools were administered by regular, local school districts (350 schools). Most other virtual schools were administered by independent charter school districts (116 schools), which are districts composed exclusively of charter schools.

The two states with the largest number of students in virtual schools were Ohio (38,169) and Pennsylvania (36,596).  Idaho had the largest percentage of students in virtual schools (2.4 percent), followed by Ohio (2.2 percent), and Pennsylvania (2.1 percent).

CCD identifies four school levels:  primary, middle, high, and “other”.  “Other” includes schools that span these categories and schools with high school grades but no 12th grade. A total of 309 of the 478 virtual schools had a school level of "other".  These schools accounted for 84 percent of students in virtual schools.

To see tables summarizing the above data, please visit our web page – http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/data_tables.asp.

To learn more about the CCD, please see our latest report, or visit our web page.  You can also access CCD data files for additional information about public elementary and secondary schools.  

Exploring a range of educational outcomes within and across countries: Sub-national data supplement to Education at a Glance 2015

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Tom Snyder

Situating educational and economic outcomes in the United States within a global context can help researchers, policy makers, and the public understand how individuals in the U.S. compare to their peers internationally. The annual publication Education at a Glance produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides information on the state of education in many countries across the world. While these data are instrumental in helping us to understand how the U.S. compares to other OECD and partner countries on a number of key educational and economic outcomes, national averages can mask the high degree of variation that can occur within individual countries. In order to address this, several OECD and partner countries, including the U.S., provided sub-national data on several select indicators previously only available at the country level.   

These data, posted on the NCES website, serve as a supplement to Education at a Glance 2015 and provide select sub-national data for six indicators in this edition. These include data on educational attainment by selected age groups, employment rates by educational attainment, annual expenditure per student, enrollment rates by age, enrollment rates in early childhood and primary education, and enrollment rates and work status of 15-29 year-olds.

In order to understand the amount of variability in an indicator for a particular country, we can compute a ratio of the state, territory, or region with the highest percentage to that with the lowest percentage on any given metric. For example, within the United States, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who completed any level of postsecondary education in 2013 ranged among the states from 30 percent in Nevada to 55 percent in Massachusetts.

The ratio of high to low percentages of 25- to 34-year-olds completing postsecondary education in the United States (2.4) was among the largest of the reporting countries.  The ratio was higher in Brazil (5.8) with a range of 6 to 31 percent, and in Spain (2.8), with a range from 21 to 58 percent. The U.S. ratio was slightly higher than in Canada and Russia (both 2.3).  The ratio was lower in Sweden (1.8) and lowest in Slovenia (1.0), Ireland (1.2), and Belgium (1.2). The high to low ratio between OECD countries was 2.8, ranging from a low of 24 percent to a high of 68 percent.


Average percentage of the 25-34 year old population with postsecondary education (with subnational high/low value) in selected OECD and partner countries: 2014

NOTE: Countries are ranked in ascending order of the average percentage of the 25-34 year old population with postsecondary education. Data years differ. Data for Canada is from 2012, while data for the United States and Brazil is from 2013. Data for all other countries is from 2014.

SOURCE: OECD. Table A1.3a. See Annex 3 for notes and sub-national Summary Table A1.3a.


Regional policy makers can benefit most from the comparisons presented in Education at a Glance when they can compare the results from their own sub-national areas with national and sub-national data from other countries. It is not surprising that large federal countries, such as Canada, Germany, and the United States, in which education is largely controlled by regional authorities, might have large internal variations. But, many other countries with centralized education systems such as Spain and Sweden have substantial variations within their countries as well. These new sub-national data can help illuminate these differences and provide additional information to U.S. states on how they compare to their peers both within the U.S. and internationally. 

Distance education: Learning in non-traditional settings

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Distance education courses and programs provide students with flexible learning opportunities. Distance education has become increasingly common at the postsecondary level. Many postsecondary institutions offer at least some online courses, while other institutions exclusively offer online programs and courses taught exclusively online. NCES collects data on distance education through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS).

IPEDS data on distance education provides information on the number and percentage of students participating in distance education at different types of institutions. In fall 2013, about 4.6 million undergraduate students participated in distance education, with 2.0 million students (11 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the 2.0 million undergraduate students who exclusively took distance education courses, 1.1 million students (6 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 0.8 million (4 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.

At the postbaccalaureate level, some 895,000 students (31 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) participated in distance education in fall 2013, with 677,000 students (23 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the students who exclusively took distance education courses, 273,000 students (9 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 362,000 students (12 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.


Percentage of undergraduate students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions who participated exclusively in distance education courses, by control and level of institution: Fall 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 311.15.


The percentage of undergraduate students participating exclusively in distance education programs differed by institutional control. In fall 2013, a higher percentage of students at private for-profit 4-year institutions exclusively took distance education courses (58 percent) than did students at any other control and level of institution. Similarly, at the postbaccalaureate level, the percentage of students who exclusively took distance education courses in fall 2013 was higher for those enrolled at private for-profit institutions (79 percent) than for those at private nonprofit (19 percent) and public institutions (16 percent).

Data on distance education in IPEDS is at the institution level, and therefore does not provide data on how distance education may differ by student characteristics. However, NPSAS contains both institution- and student-level data and can therefore be used to examine whether participation in distance education differs based on student’s demographic characteristics. For example, findings from NPSAS show that a higher percentage of older adults enrolled in distance education classes than younger adults. In 2011–12, a higher percentage of undergraduates 30 years old and over took distance education classes or their entire degree program through distance education (41 percent and 13 percent, respectively) than undergraduates 24 to 29 years of age (36 percent and 8 percent, respectively) or undergraduates 15 to 23 years of age (26 percent and 3 percent, respectively).

Findings from NPSAS also show that enrollment in distance education was higher in 2011-12 than in previous years in which these data were collected. A higher percentage of undergraduates took distance education classes in 2011–12 (32 percent) than in 2007–08 (21 percent) or in 2003–04 (16 percent). Also, a higher percentage of undergraduates took their entire degree program through distance education in 2011–12 (6 percent) than in 2007–08 (4 percent) or in 2003–04 (5 percent).

Enrollment in distance education will likely continue to grow as additional institutions offer individual courses, or even entire degree programs, online. Drawing on new technologies, the scope of distance education activities have expanded to reach millions of students. Current and future NCES data collections will continue to monitor this trend.

Reading for fun: Using NAEP data to explore student attitudes

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) is well-known as one of the key resources for information about the academic progress and performance of U.S. students. But did you know that NAEP also collects other important data on students’ behaviors and attitudes? For example, NAEP Long-Term Trend reading assessments have asked students how often they read for fun. Using these data, we can see how the frequency of reading for fun differs by student age and over time. These data can also be examined in conjunction with students’ reading assessment scores on NAEP.

A higher percentage of younger students reported that they read for fun almost every day than older students. In 2012, about 53 percent of 9-year-olds reported that they read for fun almost every day, compared to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 19 percent of 17-year-olds. Conversely, about 27 percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun compared to 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 11 percent of 9-year-olds. For 17-year-olds, the percentage who reported that they read for fun almost every day decreased over time, from 31 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2012.


Percentage of students reading for fun almost every day, by age: 1984 and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Long-Term Trend Reading Assessments. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 221.30.


There were also differences in reading assessment scores by frequency of reading for fun. In 2012, students who were 17-years-old and read for fun almost every day had higher scores (302 points) than those that never or hardly ever read for fun (272 points). The same was true for 13-year-olds (276 vs. 249 points, respectively) and 9-year-olds (226 vs. 208 points, respectively). Note, however, that comparisons like these between reading assessment scores and frequency of reading for fun cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. 

Other questions about students’ reading behaviors and attitudes are included on the main NAEP assessments. For example, in addition to a question about the frequency of reading for fun, the 2015 questionnaire included the following items:

  • About how many books are there in your home?
  • How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
  • Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)

Questions like these can be compared with students’ assessment scores to examine how attitudes, behaviors, and achievement may be related.