Special Report

Cities Spending the Most (and Least) per Student

5. Maricopa Unified School District, California
> District spending per pupil:
$4,064
> State spending per pupil: $9,220
> Median household income: $37,125
> Enrollment: 858

Across the country, a school district’s funding comes from equal parts state and local sources — about 45% each — and roughly 9% federal sources. In California, state funding generally comprises roughly 55% of district funding where at least 90% of students attend public school because of a complex funding scheme in which the state government dictates which districts receive a majority of funds. The Maricopa Unified School District, which sources just 44.1% of its budget from state funds, is the fifth most underfunded district in the country. The district spends just $4,064 per student, $6,636 less than the national average. Possibly as a result, educational outcomes in the area are subpar. The district’s graduation rate was 28.4%.

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4. Lucerne Valley Unified School District, California
> District spending per pupil:
$3,168
> State spending per pupil: $9,220
> Median household income: $29,968
> Enrollment: 2,585

With a median household income of $29,968, the Lucerne Valley Unified School District is the eleventh poorest in California. Low incomes do not necessarily lead to low district funding in California. Several similarly poor districts spend more than $11,000 per student in the state. The Lucerne Valley school district, however, is an exception, spending just $3,618 per student, $6,052 less than the California average. California has a complex education funding scheme, and districts in the state are subject to much variation in the funds they receive. Despite spending the fourth lowest amount per pupil in the country, Lucerne had a relatively high 92.7% graduation rate.

3. Scio School District 95, Oregon
> District spending per pupil:
$2,195
> State spending per pupil: $9,543
> Median household income: $48,645
> Enrollment: 3,618

The Scio School District 95 spends an average of $2,195 per student a year, or $8,505 less than the average spending on the typical American student. Oregon’s Quality Education Model suggests adequate per pupil funding is $11,970, and the Scio district is $9,775 away from that goal. On average, local sources fund some 45% of American school districts’ budgets, the state funds another 45.6% of the budget, and roughly 9% are provided by federal sources. However, the Scio School District, which sources only 7.5% of its budget locally, leaves the income of its residents largely untapped. The median household income in the district of $48,645 is slightly higher than the median household income for all of Oregon districts of $46,447. The bulk of the funding is covered by state sources, which provide 89.1% of the district’s budget. Despite its relatively low spending on students, the district has above-average educational outcomes. The district’s graduation rate, at last count, was 99.2%.

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2. Middleton School District, New Hampshire
> District spending per pupil:
$1,333
> State spending per pupil: $13,721
> Median household income: $58,472
> Enrollment: 300

New Hampshire invests a relatively large amount on education, spending $13,721 per student a year. However, the Middleton School District spends an average of just $1,333 per student, creating the largest gap between state and district spending levels of any district in the country. Most of this expense, $1,207, goes to support services. The district is relatively wealthy, and sources 47.8% of its funding from the state and 52.2% from local sources. However, some of this funding may have been squandered. The district has only 300 enrolled students, not enough for a middle and a high school, and pays tuition to send its students to the neighboring Farmington High School. The district recently filed complaint against Farmington for overcharging Middleton $1.4 million from 2007-2014 and is refusing to pay an owed $400,000. In light of this dispute, Middleton has recently approved plans to build its own school.

1. Graham Public Schools, Oklahoma
> District spending per pupil:
$648
> State spending per pupil: $7,672
> Median household income: $40,221
> Enrollment: 1,917

Across the country, where the median household income is $53,046, schools are funded on average by equal parts from state and local sources — about 45% each — and roughly 9% federal funding. In Oklahoma’s Graham Public Schools district, where the typical household makes $40,221 each year, only 3.1% of total district funding is sourced locally. Federal funding also accounts for 3.1% of the total district budget, and the remaining 93.9% is covered by state funding. Despite its large share of state subsidies, the Graham Public Schools budget is far from the state’s average. The district spends the smallest amount of any district at just $648 per student a year, about $7,000 less than what the average Oklahoma school district spends on its students. The average expenditure of $10,700 per student nationwide would have satisfied budget requirements for more than 16 students in the district.

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