In a school year whose last quarter was severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, New York once again led all states in spending on elementary and secondary education, according to the latest U.S. Census annual data.

The Empire State’s public school spending for 2019-20 came to $25,519 per pupil—89 percent more than than the 50-state (plus D.C.) average of $13,494. The education spending gap between New York and the nation as a whole has roughly doubled over the past 20 years, as illustrated by the chart below.

New York school spending will be pushed to new heights by the latest state budget, which boosts state aid to schools by $2 billion, or 7.2 percent, including a permanent, phased-in, multi-year “foundation aid” formula boost. On top of that, New York schools last year were handed another $9 billion in special “emergency relief fund” aid via the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

Noteworthy school spending benchmarks from the annual census data include the following:

  • Following a long-established pattern, school spending in New York in 2019-20  was driven primarily by instructional salaries and benefits—which, at $17,813 per pupil, were 118 percent above the national average of $8,176, the census data show. New York’s spending in this category (i.e., money in the classroom) exceeded the total per-pupil school spending in all but six 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 $7,213 per pupil. That was 50 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 1.3 percent over the previous year, a small increase (ranking 34th overall) reflecting in part an abrupt end to in-person instruction (and thus all transportation and activities) after mid-March.
  • Relative to personal income, New York’s elementary and secondary education spending of $50.99 per $1,000 ranked third, slightly behind Alaska and Vermont, about 40 percent above the national average by this measure.
  • Excluding charter schools, New York’s public elementary and secondary schools had 2.53 million pupils and spent $69 billion on current operations in 2019-20—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 $28,828 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 $16,697; Los Angeles, second only to New York City when measured by enrollment, spent $16,355 per pupil, and Chicago spent $17,041.

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 2019-20 were 23 percent higher than New Jersey’s, 20 percent higher than Connecticut’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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