States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

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31. Missouri
> High school graduation rate: 89.0% (6th highest)
> Public school spending: $11,558 per pupil (23rd lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 31.4% (math) 36.3% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.5% (18th lowest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 48.5% (18th lowest)

Equity in school funding is one of the most important measures in gauging the quality of a state’s school financing. In Missouri, the best funded schools receive about $3,342 more per pupil per year than those with the lowest funding and only 11.8% of students live in districts with above average per pupil education expenditures. As a result, the vast majority of public school students in the state may be at a disadvantage. Relatively low school spending may partially explain why the share of eighth graders who are proficient in reading has slipped by half a percentage point from 2003 to 2016, even as the vast majority of states are reporting improvements in that metric.

Missouri public schools do excel in some areas. For example, 89.0% of public high school students in the state graduate with a diploma, a larger share than in all but six other states.

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32. Georgia
> High school graduation rate: 79.4% (7th lowest)
> Public school spending: $9,742 per pupil (12th lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 28.4% (math) 30.2% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 30.5% (23rd highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 48.6% (19th lowest)

Students growing up in financially insecure environments can be at a considerable disadvantage academically. In Georgia, only 53.7% of children live in families with incomes at least double the poverty level income, a smaller share than the 58.7% of children nationwide. Additionally, Georgia spends only $9,742 per pupil per year on education, or about $2,800 less than the average per pupil expenditure among states. The relatively large share of low-income families and low school funding may partially explain some poor outcomes in Georgia’s public school system.

Only 79.4% of high school students in the state graduate with a diploma compared the 84.1% of students nationwide. Additionally, both fourth and eighth graders in Georgia are less likely to be proficient in math and reading than in most states.

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33. Michigan
> High school graduation rate: 79.7% (11th lowest)
> Public school spending: $12,765 per pupil (21st highest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 28.5% (math) 31.8% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.3% (16th lowest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 49.6% (23rd lowest)

Few state school systems report worse achievement metrics than Michigan. The share of fourth graders in Michigan public schools who are proficient in reading fell by 2.5 percentage points between 2003 and 2015, even as the share improved by 4.9 percentage points nationwide over the same period. Today, only 28.6% of fourth graders in the state are proficient in reading, well below the 34.8% share nationwide. Both fourth and eighth graders in Michigan are less likely to be proficient in math and reading than the typical American public school student in the same grades.

Improved mastery of basic skills would likely go a long way to improve graduation rates in the state. Currently, only 79.7% of high school students in Michigan graduate with a diploma, well below the 84.1% U.S. graduation rate.

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34. Oregon
> High school graduation rate: 74.8% (3rd lowest)
> Public school spending: $11,515 per pupil (22nd lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 33.7% (math) 35.7% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.7% (16th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 48.9% (20th lowest)

Due in large part to low funding and subpar student achievement, Oregon’s public school system is worse than that of most states. Oregon spends $11,515 per pupil on education annually, about $1,000 less per pupil than the average national expenditure. While outcomes are not directly related to spending, greater investment in public education may go a long way to improve outcomes of public school students in the state. For example, fewer than 3 in every 4 high schoolers in Oregon graduate with a diploma, well below the 84.1% U.S. high school graduation rate.

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35. California
> High school graduation rate: 83.0% (21st lowest)
> Public school spending: $9,417 per pupil (8th lowest)
> 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 27.1% (math) 28.4% (reading)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.9% (14th highest)
> Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 51.7% (21st highest)

California has the largest network of public schools in the country — and also one of the worst performing. Only 29.2% of fourth graders in the state are proficient in math, and only 27.8% are proficient in reading — each the third lowest share of any state. While low, the fourth grade reading proficiency rate is much improved from only a few years ago. Between 2003 and 2015, fourth grade reading proficiency increased by 7.0 percentage points, far outpacing the 4.9 percentage point improvement across the U.S. as a whole.

Children who are raised speaking English as a second language often face additional academic challenges at American public schools. Only 64.1% of California students have parents who are fluent english speakers, the smallest share of any state in the country.