Public elementary and secondary school spending in New York hit a new record high of $29,873 per pupil in 2021-22, according to the Census Bureau’s latest annual school finance data—inching closer to fully twice the national average of $15,633 amid a significant post-pandemic decline in pupil performance.

Inflated by a massive increase in state “foundation aid,” New York’s preK-12 per-pupil spending was up $3,302, or 12.4 percent, which was the biggest increase of any state in dollar terms. In percentage terms, New York’s increase ranked fifth highest in a year when total U.S. per-pupil spending rose 8.9 percent, which the Census Bureau described as the largest nationwide percentage increase in 20 years.

The education spending gap between the Empire State and the rest of the country has more than quadrupled since 2000, as shown below.

With total public school enrollment sinking to levels unseen since the early 1950s, New York’s per-pupil spending is sure to rise comfortably above $30,000 in 2022-23. New York’s latest school property tax report cards, covering districts outside the state’s five largest cities, point to spending levels of nearly $32,000 per pupil in 2023-24.

The Census Bureau’s annual Elementary and Secondary Education Finance data for 2021-22 reflect a continuation of several long-standing patterns in New York school spending as compared to education finances in other states:

  • New York’s high spending level was driven primarily by instructional salaries and benefits—which, at $20,533 per pupil, were 120 percent above the national average of $9,348, the census data show. New York’s spending in this category (i.e., money in the classroom) exceeded the total per-pupil school spending of all but five other states and the District of Columbia.
  • In the category of “support services,” which measures the bureaucratic overhead of central district and school building administration, New York ranked sixth with spending of $8,762 per pupil, which was 54 percent above the national average. However, if New York had only spent the national average in the support category, it still would have ranked first in overall per-pupil spending among the 50 states—undercutting any claims that New York’s high spending is due simply to the administrative costs of maintaining nearly 700 school districts.
  • Relative to personal income, New York’s elementary and secondary education spending of $56.49 per $1,000 ranked third, slightly behind Alaska and Vermont, 38 percent above the national average by this measure.
  • Excluding charter schools, New York’s public elementary and secondary schools had 2.37 million pupils and spent $76 billion on current operations in 2021-22—exceeded only by California, which spent about $93 billion on a public school system with 5.35 million pupils. Public schools spending in Texas, with 5 million pupils, was $16 billion lower than in New York. Florida schools had 2.8 million pupils but spent $32 billion, less than half the New York total.
  • New York City’s spending of $35,914 per pupil topped all of the nation’s 100 largest school systems. Los Angeles, second only to New York City when measured by enrollment, spent $21,940 per pupil, and Chicago spent $21,050.

As shown in the comparative table below, New York State also continues to spend considerably more than neighboring northeastern states with similarly powerful public education lobbies and high living costs. On a per-pupil basis, New York’s public school expenditures in 2020-21 were 22 percent higher than Connecticut’s, 19 percent higher than New Jersey’s, and 36 percent higher than Massachusetts’.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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