New York’s spending on public elementary and secondary education hit a new all-time high of $24,040 per pupil during the 2017-18 school year, topping all other states in the latest U.S. Census annual data.

The Empire State’s public schools spent 91 percent more than the national average of $12,612 per pupil—continuing to widen a spending gap that stood at 67 percent in 2007-08 and 44 percent in 1997-98, as illustrated by the chart below.

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In pushing for emergency federal aid to bail out New York’s tax revenue losses during the pandemic shutdown, Governor Cuomo recently complained: “I don’t have any funding to do what I normally do.” As Congress considers his aid request, some key metrics from the Census Bureau’s 2017-18 school finance data highlight what the Empire State has become accustomed to “normally” doing in the area of education:

  • Following a long-established pattern, school spending in New York in 2017-18 was driven primarily by instructional salaries and benefits—which, at $16,661 per pupil, were 118 percent above the national average of $7,650, 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 $6,883 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, closely trailing the District of Columbia.
  • New York school spending per pupil grew by 4.1 percent over the previous year. This ranked 13th overall, compared to a national average of 3.4 percent.
  • Relative to personal income, New York’s elementary and secondary education spending of $51.09 per $1,000 ranked second, trailing only Alaska, about 38 percent higher than 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 $66 billion in 2018—exceeded only by California, which spent about $79 billion on a public school system with 6.2 million pupils.
  • New York City’s spending of $26,588 per pupil was by far the highest among the nation’s 100 largest school systems.

As shown in the comparative table below, New York 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 2017-18 were 17 percent higher than New Jersey’s, 20 percent higher than Connecticut’s and 41 percent higher than Massachusetts’.

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About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is a senior fellow at the Empire Center.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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