States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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26. Hawaii
> High school graduation rate: 82.7% (19th lowest)
> Public school spending: $13,436 per pupil (16th highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 30.0% (math) 25.7% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31.9% (18th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 53.9% (14th highest)

Children facing fewer risk factors, like living in poverty, are often at an advantage academically. In Hawaii, 72.3% of children live in families with incomes at least double the poverty level, nearly the largest such share of any state and well above the 58.7% share of American children nationwide. Public school students in the state also benefit from relatively well and equitably funded schools. The state spends the equivalent of $13,436 per pupil per year, compared to $12,526 average per-pupil spending nationwide. Hawaii is one of only a handful of states in which every public school student attends a district with higher than average education spending.

Still, relative financial security at home and high education spending are no guarantee of widespread academic success, and in Hawaii, only 82.7% of high school students graduate with a diploma — a smaller share than the U.S. high school graduation rate of 84.1%.

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27. Kansas
> High school graduation rate: 85.7% (23rd highest)
> Public school spending: $11,761 per pupil (25th lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 33.2% (math) 34.8% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.8% (15th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 51.2% (24th highest)

Though Kansas allocates 3.6% of its taxable resources to education spending — more than the 3.3% average spending across all states — per-pupil school spending is still relatively low. Kansas spends $11,761 per pupil per year on public schools, about $800 less than the average per-pupil expenditure across all states.

Better-funded school systems often report better outcomes and greater investment in public schools lead to some needed improvement in Kansas schools. Nationwide, the share of fourth and eighth graders proficient in math climbed by 5.9 and 5.2 percentage points between 2003 and 2015. Kansas is the only state in the country to report a decline in the share of both fourth and eighth graders proficient in math over the same period.

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28. Kentucky
> High school graduation rate: 88.6% (7th highest)
> Public school spending: $10,945 per pupil (18th lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 27.7% (math) 36.1% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.4% (5th lowest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 47.4% (15th lowest)

More affluent states tend to report better academic outcomes among public school students, but Kentucky is relatively poor. Some 18.5% of Kentucky residents live below the poverty line, one of the highest poverty rates among states and well above the 14.0% U.S. poverty rate. While the achievement gap between students living in poverty and those who are not is closing nationwide, Kentucky is one of only a handful of states where the gap between poorer fourth and eighth graders and those in financially secure families is growing.

Despite some discouraging trends, public school students in Kentucky are more likely to graduate than those in most other states. Some 88.6% of Kentucky high schoolers graduate with a diploma compared to 84.1% of high school students nationwide.

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29. Florida
> High school graduation rate: 80.7% (14th lowest)
> Public school spending: $9,737 per pupil (11th lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 26.1% (math) 30.3% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.6% (19th lowest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 42.9% (3rd lowest)

Florida’s public schools receive some of the lowest funding of any state school system in the country. The state allocates only 2.7% of its taxable resources to school funding, well below the 3.3% average funding across all state school systems. Partially as a result, annual per-pupil education spending is only $9,737, or about $2,800 less than the typical spending nationwide.

Despite potentially inadequate funding, by some measures, Florida’s school system is relatively successful. For example, Florida has the fifth highest number of high AP test scores of any state relative to the number of 11th and 12th grade students in the state. Improving markedly in recent years, between 2000 and 2014, the number of high advanced placement test scores per 100 juniors and seniors climbed by 28.2, the third greatest improvement of any state.

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30. Utah
> High school graduation rate: 85.2% (24th lowest)
> Public school spending: $7,207 per pupil (the lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 37.9% (math) 38.0% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.6% (17th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 50.9% (25th highest)

Students with college educated parents are more likely to excel academically than students with parents with lower educational attainment. In Utah, 61.8% of children are raised by at least one parent with a post-secondary degree, one of the largest such shares of any state.

While many public school students in Utah may benefit from a supportive home environment, the state government may not be doing enough for students inside the classroom. Utah spends only $7,207 per pupil on public education annually, the least of any state and about $5,300 less than the average per-pupil expenditure across all states. Despite potentially underfunded classrooms, fourth and eighth graders in the state are more likely than most in other state school systems to be proficient in reading and math.