Richest and Poorest School Districts

September 25, 2015 by Sam Stebbins

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Empty Classroom

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.

The Richest School Districts

10. Cold Spring Harbor Central School District, New York
> Median household income:
$182,153
> Student enrollment: 1,977
> State per pupil spending: $19,818
> District per pupil spending: $27,203

Cold Spring Harbor, located on the northern shore of Long Island, is one of the wealthiest school districts in the country. A typical household in the town earns more than $180,000 per year, on average. Not surprisingly, the district spends more on its schools than all but a few other districts. Total annual spending amounted to more than $27,000 for each of the area’s 1,977 students. The district spends $17,538 per pupil on instructional costs alone, or roughly 2.7 times the average national instructional spending of $6,480 per pupil. Likely because of the substantial revenue the district is able to collect through property taxes, less than 10% of the district’s funding comes from state or federal sources. Across the country, an average of 54.7% of school districts’ funding comes from non-local sources, by contrast.

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9. Edgemont Union Free School District, New York
> Median household income:
$183,977
> Student enrollment: 1,921
> State per pupil spending: $19,818
> District per pupil spending: $23,677

The typical household in the Edgemont Union Free School District earns about $130,000 more annually than the typical American household, making it the ninth wealthiest school district in the United States. Located in Scarsdale, New York, the district spends nearly $15,600 on instruction per pupil, more than double the amount school districts across the United States spend on average. Only 14.4% of its funding comes from state and federal governments, a significantly lower proportion than the average American school district that receives 54.7% of its funding from state and federal sources. Meanwhile, 83% of the district’s revenue comes from taxes and parent contributions, a much higher share from local sources than the national average. Across the nation, 38.9% of district’s’ funding comes from local sources.

8. Byram Hills Central School District, New York
> Median household income:
$185,532
> Student enrollment: 2,647
> State per pupil spending: $19,818
> District per pupil spending: $25,763

Across the country, where the median annual household income is $53,046, schools are funded on average by equal parts from state and local sources — 45% each — and about 10% from federal funding. In the Byram Hills Central School District, where the typical household makes more than $185,000 annually, 89.9% of school funding comes from local sources. New York spends more on education than every other state. The Byram Hills school district spends $25,763 per student each year, well above the state expenditure, and about 2.5 times what the rest of the country’s districts spend on average. While the precise link between spending and outcomes in school systems is very controversial, the large investment in Byram Hills may be paying off. In the 2009-2010 school year, the high school graduation rate was 100%.

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7. Weston School District, Massachusetts
> Median household income:
$192,563
> Student enrollment: 2,361
> State per pupil spending: $14,515
> District per pupil spending: $20,460

Boston suburb Weston, Massachusetts, is one of the wealthiest school district in the country. The median household income in the area is $192,563, substantially higher than the vast majority of other U.S. areas. As is usually the case with extremely wealthy districts, the public school system is very well funded. Expenditures average more than $20,000 per pupil annually, or roughly double the average national per student public school spending. Even with such well-funded public schools, a large share of Weston parents are still opting to send their children to private institutions. Roughly one in five students in the district go to private schools compared to a national average share of 16.5% of students attending private K-12 schools.

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6. Bronxville Union Free School District, New York
> Median household income:
$195,337
> Student enrollment: 1,569
> State per pupil spending: $19,818
> District per pupil spending: $28,662

While 79.2% of Bronxville housing units are owned by their occupants, higher than the national homeownership rate, area residents are less likely to own their homes than in other wealthy school districts. The reluctance to purchase a home among some people in the area could be due to the extremely high property taxes. According to the Empire Center, a public policy research organization, Westchester County, where Bronxville is located, has some of the highest property taxes in the state. A large portion of the high property taxes go towards school funding. Coupled with the especially high median home value in the area of nearly $1 million, tax revenues likely contributed to especially high school district funding from local sources. More than 90% of all school funding comes from local sources, one of the highest such proportions nationwide.

5. Chappaqua Central School District, New York
> Median household income:
$196,655
> Student enrollment: 4,068
> State per pupil spending: $19,818
> District per pupil spending: $26,251

Chappaqua Central School District is one of six among the 10 best-funded districts located outside New York City. The median annual household income of $196,655 is well more than three times the national median income of $53,046. As incomes increase so does the likelihood of owning a home. In the Chappaqua area, 91.9% of housing units are owned by their occupants, one of the highest homeownership rates. And these homes are some of the most valuable homes in the nation, with median value of $872,900. The high home values contributed to local sources of school funding, which accounted for 86.5% of total school district spending. In contrast, 45.3% of school funding comes from local sources nationwide. In total, the district spends $26,251 per pupil annually versus the national average of $10,700.

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4. Darien School District, Connecticut
> Median household income:
$205,688
> Student enrollment: 4,815
> State per pupil spending: $16,631
> District per pupil spending: $17,868

The Darien school district is one of the nation’s two wealthiest districts located in Connecticut. With a median annual household income of $205,688, Darien is the fourth wealthiest school district in the nation. The Darien public school system spent $12,356 per pupil on instruction alone, nearly double the national average expenditure on instruction. Given the significant investment in public education in the district, parents were less likely than most to send their children to private school. Only 14.5% of students in Darien are enrolled in private school, a smaller share than the 16.5% of American students. Like many of the nation’s wealthiest school districts, Darien gets a very small share of its funding from the federal government. While 85% of public school funding comes from local sources that include tax revenue and parent contributions, less than 1% comes from federal sources.

3. Piedmont City Unified School District, California
> Median household income:
$207,222
> Student enrollment: 2,552
> State per pupil spending: $9,220
> District per pupil spending: $12,474

Compared to other wealthy school districts, Piedmont City Unified School District, outside San Francisco, does not rely heavily on local sources for funding. Nearly 39% of school budgets comes from state sources, lower than the national proportion but several times higher than the comparable shares in other wealthy school districts. Even though residents are some of the wealthiest in the nation and own some of the most valuable homes — the median home value is more than $1 million — the education expenditure is relatively low. Piedmont City spends $12,474 per pupil, higher than the national expenditure, but half as much as most other school districts on this list.

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2. Weston School District, Connecticut
> Median household income:
$207,262
> Student enrollment: 2,479
> State per pupil spending: $16,631
> District per pupil spending: $20,636

Located in the affluent Fairfield County in Connecticut, a suburban region of New York City, Weston is one of the wealthiest school districts in the country, with a median annual household income in excess of $205,000 and a poverty rate of just 1.8%. By comparison, the national median income is $53,046 and the poverty rate is 15.4%. Home values are also very high in the area, with the typical home valued at $880,800. A large share of school funding comes from property taxes, and the high property values have resulted in a large share of school funding coming from local sources. An average of just 12.1% of the region’s school funding comes from state or federal sources. As is usually the case with wealthy school districts, educational attainment in Weston is extremely high. Nationally, an estimated 28.8% of adults have a at least bachelor’s degree. In Weston, 82.2% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, higher than in all but a handful of districts.

1. Scarsdale Union Free School District, New York
> Median household income:
$238,478
> Student enrollment: 4,721
> State per pupil spending: $19,818
> District per pupil spending: $25,831

Households in the Scarsdale Union Free School District are the wealthiest in the nation, with a median annual income of $238,478, or 4.5 times greater than the comparable national median income of $53,046. Wealthy areas are frequently home to wealthy school districts largely because of the higher collected tax revenues locally. The district spends $17,772 per pupil annually on instruction alone, several times the national average instruction expenditure of $6,480. Scarsdale is located 24 miles from New York City, between the Bronx and Hutchinson Rivers. High-paying jobs in the metro area likely account for the high wages in the district.

Not only do prosperous communities frequently offer well-funded school districts, but also the healthy economic circumstances help improve education outcomes. Of the nearly 10,000 U.S. school districts reviewed, only Mountain Lakes Borough, New Jersey has a higher college attainment rate than Scarsdale, where 85.9% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree.

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The Poorest School Districts

10. Barbourville Independent School District, Kentucky
> Median household income:
$19,760
> Student enrollment: 715
> State per pupil spending: $9,316
> District per pupil spending: $7,811

Unlike many other states, where state and federal funding programs often help increase school funding in poor areas, the Barbourville Independent School District was both poor and spends very little on its schools. The district spends an average of $7,811 on each of its students per year, nearly $3,000 less than the national annual average spending per student, and $1,505 less than the Kentucky average. On the other hand, Anchorage, one of the state’s wealthiest areas, had one of the highest educational expenditures. While local sources account for about 45% of funding in the average American school district, it accounts for just about 15% of the Barbourville district’s funding. Perhaps this is not surprising given the median annual household income in the district is just $19,760, more than $33,000 below the national median income and one of the lowest nationwide.

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9. Muskegon Heights School District, Michigan
> Median household income:
$19,368
> Student enrollment: 1,514
> State per pupil spending: $10,948
> District per pupil spending: $12,294

Michigan is home to two of the poorest school districts in the country, and Muskegon Heights is one of them. A typical area household earns just $19,368 annually and 46.5% of the district’s residents live in poverty. Lower incomes can be the result of lower education levels. In Muskegon Heights, only 5.1% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, a lower attainment rate than in all of the poorest school districts in the country and significantly lower than the corresponding national rate of 28.8%.

Muskegon is quite poor, but its school spending, at $12,294 per pupil annually, is actually well above both the state and national education expenditures. This could be due to state and local funding programs designed to offset the effects of poverty. However, despite the relatively high expenditure, educational outcomes are poor in the area. Muskegon Heights high school graduation rate of 47.9% is one of the worst in the country.

8. Madison Community Unit School District 12, Illinois
> Median household income:
$19,272
> Student enrollment: 792
> State per pupil spending: $12,288
> District per pupil spending: $14,193

According to a study on school funding inequality conducted by The Education Trust, an education advocacy group, Illinois has the largest gap in state and local funding between high and low poverty districts. However, the Madison Community Unit School District 12, where 45.4% of all residents live in poverty, is able to spend a relatively large amount on its students. The district spends an average of $14,193 per student annually, $1,905 more than the state average expenditure and $3,493 more than the national expenditure. Though local sources accounted for 15% of total funding, much lower than the contribution of local sources of about 45% across the nation, state sources supplemented the funding, accounting for about 65% of total funding — much more than the average state funding contribution nationwide of 45.6%.

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7. Yazoo City Municipal School District, Mississippi
> Median household income:
$19,197
> Student enrollment: 2,624
> State per pupil spending: $8,130
> District per pupil spending: $7,454

The federal government provides just over 9% of the average American school district’s funding. Only three of Mississippi’s 148 school districts receive a smaller share from the federal government, and the Yazoo City Municipal School District, which receives over one-quarter of its funding from the feds, is not one of them. The median annual household income in the district’s tax base is $19,197, far less than half the median household income of $53,046 nationwide. Though nearly 94% of district students attend public schools, the school system is underfunded by national standards. The district spends $7,454 per pupil annually — less than the $8,130 the average Mississippi school district spends and well below the corresponding national average spending of $10,700.

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6. Jackson Independent School District, Kentucky
> Median household income:
$19,125
> Student enrollment: 428
> State per pupil spending: $9,316
> District per pupil spending: $9,360

Across the country, where the median annual household income is $53,046, schools are funded on average by equal parts from state and local sources — 45% each — and about 9% federal funding. In the Jackson Independent School District, where the typical household makes $19,125 annually, just 10% of funding is sourced locally. The bulk of the remainder comes from the Kentucky state government, which provides over three-fourths of the district’s total funding. After a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in which Kentucky’s distribution of state school funding was ruled unconstitutional, the state legislature instituted a more equitable distribution scheme. Perhaps as a result, the Jackson Independent School District spends $9,360 per pupil per year, nearly the same amount the state spends on average per student.

5. Highland Park City Schools, Michigan
> Median household income:
$18,981
> Student enrollment: 977
> State per pupil spending: $10,948
> District per pupil spending: $16,896

With a median household income of $18,981, Michigan’s Highland Park School district, outside Detroit, is the fifth poorest in the country. Unlike most of the nation’s poorest school districts, a large share of students in the Highland Park area attend private schools. While 16.5% of American students are enrolled in private schools, slightly more than 22% of the student population in Michigan’s poorest school district attend private educational institutions. Despite the low incomes, public school expenditure was actually much higher than the national average, at $16,896. Yet, the high spending has not resulted in better outcomes. The district’s graduation rate of 26.6% was the 13th lowest in the nation out of nearly 10,000 school districts.

More than 21% of public school funding in Highland Park comes from the federal government, a larger share than in all but two of the poorest school districts, and significantly more than the 9.1% of total funding the average American school district receives from the federal government.

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4. Monticello Independent School District, Kentucky
> Median household income:
$18,738
> Student enrollment: 894
> State per pupil spending: $9,316
> District per pupil spending: $9,592

The typical household in Monticello earns $18,738 annually, well below the nationwide median household income of $53,046. Poor educational attainment likely explains the low incomes. Only 59.1% of area adults have a high school diploma.

With such low incomes in the area, it is perhaps no surprise that no students in the school district attend private school. Like most of the poorest school districts, the Monticello Independent School District’s annual spending on instruction per pupil falls below the national average spending. While nationwide instructional investment per pupil is $6,480 annually, instructional spending in Kentucky’s poorest school district is only $6,075, about $400 short of the national average. Nearly 75% of the district’s funding comes from state coffers, while local sources, such as taxes and parent contributions, account for a minimal 8.3% of total funding.

3. New Boston Local School District, Ohio
> Median household income:
$16,892
> Student enrollment: 444
> State per pupil spending: $11,197
> District per pupil spending: $10,270

The typical American household makes $53,046 annually, more than three times the median household income in Ohio’s New Boston Local School District. Nearly half of the district’s residents live in poverty, and 43.9% of area households receive food stamps. In New Boston, investment in education is on par with the nation. As spending per student in American public schools averages $10,700 annually, spending per student in New Boston is $10,270. Graduation rates in the area also lag well behind national education levels. In the 2009-2010 school year, the graduation rate in New Boston was only 58.1%, an alarmingly low rate.

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2. Cairo Community Unit School District 1
> Median household income:
$16,829
> Student enrollment: 510
> State per pupil spending: $12,288
> District per pupil spending: $13,971

Located in southern Illinois, near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the Cairo Community Unit School District 1 is one of the poorest in the country. The median annual household income in the Cairo district is $16,829, the second lowest of any school district in the country. Only 75.5% of area adults have a high school diploma, a significantly lower attainment rate than the national rate of 86.0%. While the Cairo district trails the nation in terms of income and education levels, it invests slightly more in education than most of the country. Average spending per pupil in Illinois’ poorest district comes to $13,971 annually, almost $3,300 more than the average nationwide spending per pupil of $10,700.

1. San Perlita Independent School District, Texas
> Median household income:
$16,384
> Student enrollment: 291
> State per pupil spending: $8,299
> District per pupil spending: $11,124

Across the country, where the median annual household income is $53,046, schools are funded on average by equal parts state and local sources — about 45% each — and roughly 9% federal funding. In the San Perlita Independent School District, where the typical household makes just $16,384 annually, just 20.8% of school funding comes from local sources. Scant local funds are supplemented by federal funding, which constitutes about one-fourth of the district’s budget. As a result, about $400 more is spent on average per student in San Perlita than is spent on the typical American student. More than half, 56.7%, of the district’s residents live in poverty, the fourth highest poverty rate of any district. Despite the district’s challenges, San Perlita has relatively good education outcomes. The high school graduation rate was 93.8% in 2010, about 32 percentage points higher than the average graduation rate of the nine next poorest districts.

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