New York’s spending on public elementary and secondary education reached $25,139 per pupil during the 2018-19 school year, once again surpassing all states in the latest U.S. Census annual data.

The Empire State’s public schools spent 91 percent more than the national average of $13,187 per pupil—compared to gaps of 73 percent in 2008-09 and 45 percent in 1998-99, as illustrated by the chart below comparing the 20-year trends for New York and all states.

Release of the Census Bureau’s 2019 Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data comes on New York’s annual school budget referendum day, with districts across the state—except for the five largest cities—seeking voter approval of proposals to boost their per-pupil spending by an average of 4.2 percent and per-pupil property tax levies by an average 2.5 percent.

New York school spending will be pushed up even higher in the future by a record aid increase in the state budget approved in early April, which also featured a legislative commitment to fully fund larger “foundation aid” formula increases in future years. On top of that, New York schools have just been handed another $9 billion in special “emergency relief fund” aid via the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

Here are some of the annually noteworthy school spending benchmarks from the census data:

  • Following a long-established pattern, school spending in New York in 2018-19 was driven primarily by instructional salaries and benefits—which, at $17,335 per pupil, were 118 percent above the national average of $7,963, the census data show. New York’s spending in this category exceeded the total per-pupil school spending in all but seven 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 $7,261 per pupil. That was 54 percent above the national average. However, if New York had spent the national average in the support category, it still would have ranked first in overall per-pupil spending among states.
  • New York school spending per pupil grew by 4.5 percent over the previous year. This ranked 12th overall, slightly below the 5 percent national average.
  • Relative to personal income, New York’s elementary and secondary education spending of $50.82 per $1,000 ranked third, slightly behind Alaska and Vermont, about 41 percent above the national average by this measure.
  • Excluding charter schools, New York’s public elementary and secondary schools had 2.6 million pupils and spent nearly $69 billion in 2019—exceeded only by California, which spent about $81 billion on a public school system with 5.7 million pupils.
  • New York City’s spending of $28,004 per pupil was by far the highest among the nation’s 100 largest school systems. Montgomery County, Maryland, ranked second among large school systems with spending of $16,490; Los Angeles, second only to New York City when measured by enrollment, spent $15,793 per pupil.

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 2018-19 were 23 percent higher than New Jersey’s, 18 percent higher than Connecticut’s and 42 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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