Special Report

Richest and Poorest School Districts

Many factors determine the quality of education in a particular state, including federal, state, and local funding levels, the curriculum, and teacher and staff quality. A district’s wealth, however, is often a very good indicator of how well the area’s students are likely to perform.

In San Perlita, Texas, the poorest school district in the United States, the median annual household income is just $16,384, or less than a third of the national median income level. A typical household in the Scarsdale, New York, school district earns $238,478 per year. The quality of life for the 291 students in San Perlita and the 4,721 in Scarsdale is likely very different. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the wealthiest and poorest school districts in the country.

Click here to see the richest school districts in America.

Click here to see the poorest school districts in America.

Property taxes play a significant part in the funding of school districts, and for this reason, the public school systems in the nation’s wealthiest districts are among the best funded in the country. Nationally, public schools spend an annual average of $10,700 per pupil. In eight of the 10 wealthiest districts, spending is at least $20,000 per pupil.

The poorest districts pull in relatively scant funding from local sources, but this does not mean these districts are necessarily underfunded. In fact, half of the 10 poorest districts spend more on average than the national average per pupil spending. This is largely because state and federal funding, which is often targeted to economically disadvantaged areas, can make up much of the difference.

Nationally, an average of 45.3% of total school funding comes from local sources. Only in one of the poorest districts does local spending account for more than 20% of the district’s budget. In those same districts, state sources account for an average of 66% of total funding, and federal sources account for 18.1% of funding on average. Nationwide, state funding comes to 45.6% of total funding, and federal funding comes to just 9.1%.

Income has a strong correlation with educational achievement on a national level, and that is the case in these districts as well. There is a correlation between students who come from wealthier households and their achievements and graduation rates, likely because of the many advantages they receive. The majority of the wealthiest districts have at least a 95% graduation rate. Only two of the 10 poorest districts have graduation rates higher than 75%.

Policymakers cite to the importance of funding for student achievement. But the districts that receive large state and federal funding to make up for low local sources, primarily property taxes and parent contributions, highlight the fact that funding is often not enough to make up for the inequalities in a region that lead to poor achievement.

Sterling Lloyd, senior researcher with national education newspaper Education Week, explained that the relationship between funding and achievement is a complex and controversial one. “There’s no consensus in the research about the precise role of school spending for student achievement. It’s a perennial debate. You can find studies that indicate there is a relationship between funding and student achievement, and you can find studies that say there isn’t a relationship.” Sterling added that in addition to family poverty, policies related to teacher quality and spending can also make a significant difference.

To identify the richest and poorest school districts in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the districts with the 10 highest and 10 lowest median household incomes among the 9,627 U.S. school districts serving at least 250 students from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). School spending figures, which do not include private education spending, are as of the end of 2013 and come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of School System Finances. Graduation rates come from National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

These are the richest (and poorest) school districts in America.

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