July 15, 2020

Maine ranks 15th in public school spending

WASHINGTON — Public schools in New Jersey, New York, Alaska and Connecticut spent more money per student than schools anywhere else in the country except the nation’s capital, the Census Bureau said Thursday.

New Jersey spent an average of $8,902 on each kindergarten through 12th-grade student in 1994, according to the survey. New York shelled out $8,162 per student; Alaska paid $7,890; and Connecticut spent $7,629.

Utah sat at the bottom of the list, spending an average of $3,280 per student. Mississippi spent slightly more — $3,423 — just behind Idaho, $3,602, and Alabama, $3,777.

Maine spent $5,561 per pupil in 1994, $198 more than the national average of $5,363.

Maine ranked 15th among 50 states and the District of Columbia in overall spending, according to the survey, which was compiled by the Commerce Department using Census Bureau data from the most recent year available.

The spending figures do not include money used for capital improvements such as new schools and building improvements or repairs.

Public schools are financed primarily with local money, usually property taxes.

Maine was ranked 21st in the amount of school money raised locally. Maine communities raised an average of $2,850 per pupil, compared with a national average of $2,866.

Maine ranked 31st in the amount of federal money it got for education. Maine communities got an average of $357 per pupil from the federal government, compared with the national average of $393. The state gave $2,810 for education, compared with the national average of $2,765 per pupil.

The figures listed in the survey take into account everything from teacher salaries to wages for cafeteria workers and costs to run after-school and special education programs.

Some education officials cautioned parents against using a school’s per-pupil expenditure as the sole barometer of a child’s educational success.

“You can’t draw a direct correlation of expenditures to achievement,” said Chris Pipho, who tracks education trends and legislation for the Denver-based group, The Education Commission of the States.

Pipho said other factors include the level of education completed by a student’s parents, a family’s income level and whether the student comes from a household with one or two parents.

“Those variables probably will impact achievement nearly as much as what a school would do,” he said. “When you’re dealing with children, you can never isolate the variables.”

Pipho also pointed out that a hefty portion of a school’s costs goes toward payroll expenses. He said states generally spend between 60 percent and 70 percent of their budget on salaries, not just for teachers, but support staff including aides, custodial help, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

“It’s an industry that is very human service-driven,” he said. “And so consider when you have a strong union state versus a nonunion state, you’re going to have higher salary schedules in that region.”

Wayne Martin, a spokesman for the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, said other variables include a school’s environment.

He pointed out that students in North Dakota, which ranked among the bottom 15 states on the list, earned one of the highest scores in the country’s most recent “report card” by the National Assessment Governing Board, a government body that sets educational standards.

That’s because North Dakota deals with a smaller, more homogeneous student population in a typically less-violent environment, Martin said. States with more urban regions tend to spend more money on their students to compensate for the social and economic conditions that face many of their students, he said.

“For example, if they’re coming from a poor home — poor in an economic sense, where they may not have had enough to eat or stay warm during the night — that all compounds so that expenditures are more,” he said.

Martin pointed out that the survey appears to reflect the cost of living for each state and reminded parents that the figures simply reflect averages — midpoints between wealthy and poor school districts.

The survey also shows how much each state raised and spent compared with the income of its residents.

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