Trends in public elementary and secondary education expenditures

Trends in public elementary and secondary education expenditures – Statistic of the Month

Thomas D. Snyder

Every year during the past decade, the United States has increased expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools. The national average expenditure per pupil has also increased annually. Between school years 1970-71 and 1978-79, the current expenditures per student in average daily attendance rose 122%. Even when adjusted for inflation, this amounts to an increase of 29%. Most of the increase in adjusted spending occurred during the early and mid-1970’s.

Spending in adjusted dollars actually declined slightly during the years 1979-80 and 1980-81. Between 1980-81 and 1981-82, expenditures per student rose about one percent after adjustment for inflation. From 1981-82 to 1982-83, with a lower rate of inflation, adjusted expenditure per pupil exhibited a sharp rise of 4%. This increase brought current expenditure per pupil to an all-time high of $2,948 in 1982-83.

There were considerable differences among the states in their increase in expenditures per pupil between 1980-81 and 1982-83. Percentage changes among the states varied from increases of more than 36% in Texas and Wyoming to increases of less than 10% in Alabama, M ichigan, and North Carolina (see accompanying chart). Fifteen states had increases of 25% or more, 10 states and the District of Columbia had increases of 20% to 25%, 11 had increases of 15% to 20%, and 14 had increases of less than 15%. Differences among the regions were not well defined. But in general, the states in the Far West, with the exception of Nevada and Washington, had modest increases. Also, most of the Great Lakes states and the Southern states had relatively small increases. Many of the larger increases were concentrated in the Northeastern states and the Western Plains states. Even when adjusted for inflation during this period, the increases in most of the states translated into substantial growth in spending for public elementary and secondary education.

After adjustment for inflation, 40 states and the District of Columbia had real increases in expenditures per pupil between 1980-81 and 1982-83. The changes ranged widely from increases of more than 20% in some states to declines of 4 or 5% in other states. In some cases these changes were strongly affected by drops or increases in enrollment. For example, Utah was below the national average in terms of increases in per pupil spending, but its increase of 8% in average daily attendance during the three years was larger than that of any other state. Other states, such as Wyoming and Texas, not only had large increases in per pupil spending but also had increases of about 3% in student attendance. School attendance in Massachusetts fell 13% between 1980-81 and 1982-83. This decrease, despite level funding, enabled the state’s expenditure per pupil to keep pace with inflation.

A ranking of the states according to their expenditures per pupil reveals some important differences between high and low spending states. Between 1980-81 and 1982-83, high spending states tended to increase their expenditures more than states that had been spending lesser amounts. Not only were the actual dollar changes larger among high-spending states, but on the average, the percentage increases were greater as well. the top five states spent an average of 118% more per student than the bottom five states in 1980-81. In 1982-83, the top five states expended 140% more on a per pupil basis. Thus, the disparity in per pupil spending among the states appears to be growing.

While expenditure per pupil does not serve as a good measure of educational quality, changes in expenditures do indicate the changing magnitude of resources available to public schools.

COPYRIGHT 1984 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group