Albert Cortez, Ph.D.
A recent report produced by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that Texas continues to slip in rankings of per pupil expenditures among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to this latest report, Texas ranks 35 in per pupil expenditures for elementary and secondary education.
When compared to the most populous states, Texas’ average $6,746 per pupil expenditure ranks only above Florida’s $6,056 (which ranks 45) and falls well below expenditures in New York ($11,546), New Jersey ($11,436), Pennsylvania ($8,841), Michigan ($8,489), Ohio ($8,100), Illinois ($8,022), and California ($7,511).
Among the 15 states that spend less per pupil on education, all except Florida are smaller and have fewer and smaller urban centers. In addition to North Dakota and South Dakota, these states include many southern states: Louisiana ($6,519), North Carolina ($6,511), Kentucky ($6,493), Arkansas ($6,119), Alabama ($6,115), and Mississippi ($5,382).
The data also include information on total revenues allocated to education, total expenditures, and total debt in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. While these vary widely, the computation of per pupil amounts permits a more valid comparison of these data across the states.
For example, California leads all states in total expenditures for education ($55 billion). However it also boasts the nation’s largest public school (kindergarten through 12th grade) enrollments. New York’s $39 billion total expenditures likewise reflect its large k-12 population, as does Texas’ $35 billion total expenditure.
Only by dividing by the total number of pupils supported by that revenue is one able to make a valid comparison. A more refined analysis would adjust for regional cost differences and consider differences in the populations of students that are served, but these data at least provide an opportunity for more gross comparisons.
The U.S. Census data also reveal that Texas leads the country in its total school debt at more than $28 billion – over $8 billion more than its nearest competitor (New York with its more than $20 billion debt level). This, in turn, may reflect these states’ enrollments and historically-limited levels of support for local school construction.
These data reflect Texas’ decline in the amount of funding that has been provided to its public schools over the last four years. More importantly, the per pupil expenditure figure and its resulting sub-standard ranking suggests that maintaining the state’s commitment to education funding has not been a top state priority.
No doubt the state’s lukewarm commitment to maintaining its per pupil funding at a level that maintains or improves its relative investment in education has contributed to the recent decisions by local schools to once again mount a legal challenge to the current school finance system. This latest challenge involves several distinct plaintiffs and interveners who have claimed that the system has become less equitable than the plan approved by the State Supreme Court in 1994.
These data suggest that these concerns may be well founded. Given growing competition among the states for jobs and new industry, a rallying cry of “We’re number 35” is cause for little excitement and even more concern.
Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at
[©2004, IDRA. The above article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]
Expenditures Per Student
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2004|