The Best School District in Every State

April 2, 2018 by Mike Sauter

Source: monkeybusinessimages / iStock

Few public services in the United States contain such stark differences in quality as the public education system. While there are several school districts that spend more than $50,000 per student on education each year, in other districts education expenditures amount to less than $2,000 per student.

That difference in spending contributes to major disparities in student outcomes throughout the country. The majority of a school’s budget is spent on staff and teacher salaries. A school that is able to attract the best teachers can give their students a major advantage.

Those advantages are often the greatest in the most affluent parts of the country. Approximately 44% of all school funding in the United States comes from local sources such as property tax. As a result, most of the highest quality school districts are in wealthy counties where a majority of households make more than double that of the typical American household.

To determine the best school district in every state, 24/7 Wall St. developed an index based on various measures of child poverty, per-pupil expenditure, graduation rate, teachers per student, the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree, preschool enrollment, and AP enrollment.

Click here to see the full list of the best school districts in every state.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this piece incorrectly labeled Kansas’s best school district as “Wenatchee School District.” The school district’s name is Blue Valley Unified School District 229. The name has been corrected.

Source: mtnbrook.k12.al.us

1. Alabama
> Best school district: Mountain Brook City School District
> Location: Jefferson County
> Per student spending: $12,324 (total enrollment: 4,461)
> High school graduation rate: 96.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 85.1%

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Source: Cordova Junior-Senior High School / Facebook

2. Alaska
> Best school district: Cordova City School District
> Location: Valdez-Cordova Census Area
> Per student spending: $21,755 (total enrollment: 343)
> High school graduation rate: 90.2%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 36.8%

Source: JulieTFarbarik / Wikimedia Commons

3. Arizona
> Best school district: Catalina Foothills Unified District
> Location: Pima County
> Per student spending: $6,910 (total enrollment: 4,948)
> High school graduation rate: 90.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 67.6%

Source: Woodlawn High School / Facebook

4. Arkansas
> Best school district: Woodlawn School District
> Location: Cleveland County
> Per student spending: $8,413 (total enrollment: 542)
> High school graduation rate: 98.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.6%

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Source: Canyons School District / Facebook

5. California
> Best school district: Palo Alto Unified School District
> Location: Santa Clara County
> Per student spending: $16,154 (total enrollment: 12,527)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 81.7%

Source: tellurideschool.org

6. Colorado
> Best school district: Telluride School District R-1
> Location: San Miguel County
> Per student spending: $12,433 (total enrollment: 898)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 64.0%

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Source: ncps-k12.org

7. Connecticut
> Best school district: New Canaan School District
> Location: Fairfield County
> Per student spending: $22,023 (total enrollment: 4,201)
> High school graduation rate: N/A
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 77.7%

Source: Brandywine School District / Facebook

8. Delaware
> Best school district: Brandywine School District
> Location: New Castle County
> Per student spending: $15,170 (total enrollment: 10,739)
> High school graduation rate: 80.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 42.9%

Source: SJC School District / Facebook

9. Florida
> Best school district: St. Johns County School District
> Location: St. Johns County
> Per student spending: $8,479 (total enrollment: 35,268)
> High school graduation rate: 88.6%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 42.5%

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Source: City Schools of Decatur / Facebook

10. Georgia
> Best school district: Decatur City School District
> Location: DeKalb County
> Per student spending: $12,593 (total enrollment: 4,345)
> High school graduation rate: 85.5%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 72.3%

Source: Joel Bradshaw / Wikimedia Commons

11. Hawaii
> Best school district: Hawaii Department of Education
> Location: Hawaii, Honolulu, Kalawao, Kauai, and Maui Counties
> Per student spending: $12,855 (total enrollment: 182,384)
> High school graduation rate: 75.4%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 31.4%

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Source: mdsd.org

12. Idaho
> Best school district: McCall-Donnelly Joint School District 421
> Location: Adams and Valley County
> Per student spending: $11,804 (total enrollment: 1,014)
> High school graduation rate: 77.9%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 32.4%

Source: Barrington High School / Facebook

13. Illinois
> Best school district: Barrington Community Unit School District 220
> Location: Cook, Kane, Lake, and McHenry Counties
> Per student spending: $17,869 (total enrollment: 8,910)
> High school graduation rate: 98.2%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 61.5%

Source: West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School / Facebook

14. Indiana
> Best school district: West Lafayette Community School Corporation
> Location: Tippecanoe County
> Per student spending: $11,266 (total enrollment: 2,104)
> High school graduation rate: 92.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 68.7%

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Source: Iowa City Community School District / Facebook

15. Iowa
> Best school district: Iowa City Community School District
> Location: Johnson County
> Per student spending: $10,289 (total enrollment: 13,661)
> High school graduation rate: 87.1%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 57.0%

Source: wenatcheeschools.org

16. Kansas
> Best school district: Blue Valley Unified School District 229
> Location: Johnson and Miami County
> Per student spending: $9,690 (total enrollment: 22,398)
> High school graduation rate: 99.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 68.4%

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Source: Fort Thomas Independent Schools / Facebook

17. Kentucky
> Best school district: Fort Thomas Independent School District
> Location: Campbell County
> Per student spending: $8,763 (total enrollment: 3,053)
> High school graduation rate: 94.6%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 47.5%

Source: Orleans Parish School Board / Facebook

18. Louisiana
> Best school district: Orleans Parish School District
> Location: Orleans Parish
> Per student spending: $13,620 (total enrollment: 13,271)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 36.2%

Source: Falmouth Public Schools / Facebook

19. Maine
> Best school district: Falmouth Schools
> Location: Cumberland County
> Per student spending: $14,109 (total enrollment: 2,119)
> High school graduation rate: 93.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 69.3%

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Source: SheepNotGoats / Wikimedia Commons

20. Maryland
> Best school district: Howard County Public Schools
> Location: Howard County
> Per student spending: $15,714 (total enrollment: 53,685)
> High school graduation rate: 92.5%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 61.0%

Source: westonschools.org

21. Massachusetts
> Best school district: Weston School District
> Location: Middlesex County
> Per student spending: $23,614 (total enrollment: 2,253)
> High school graduation rate: 95.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 83.9%

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Source: Rudy Malmquist / East Grand Rapids Public Schools / Facebook

22. Michigan
> Best school district: East Grand Rapids Public School District
> Location: Kent County
> Per student spending: $10,090 (total enrollment: 2,950)
> High school graduation rate: 96.6%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 78.9%

Source: MHS - Minnetonka High School Parents / Facebook

23. Minnesota
> Best school district: Minnetonka Public School District
> Location: Carver and Hennepin County
> Per student spending: $10,749 (total enrollment: 9,981)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 62.0%

Source: Ridgeland High School PTO / Facebook

24. Mississippi
> Best school district: Madison County School District
> Location: Madison County
> Per student spending: $8,707 (total enrollment: 12,780)
> High school graduation rate: 76.1%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 51.8%

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Source: Ladue School District / Facebook

25. Missouri
> Best school district: Ladue School District
> Location: St. Louis County
> Per student spending: $12,842 (total enrollment: 4,089)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 73.1%

Source: belfrybats.org

26. Montana
> Best school district: Belfry K-12 Schools
> Location: Carbon County
> Per student spending: $28,500 (total enrollment: 48)
> High school graduation rate: 50.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 22.7%

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Source: Elkhorn High School / Twitter

27. Nebraska
> Best school district: Elkhorn Public Schools
> Location: Douglas County
> Per student spending: $9,309 (total enrollment: 7,553)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 58.6%

Source: Battle Mountain High School, NV-Official / Facebook

28. Nevada
> Best school district: Lander County School District
> Location: Lander County
> Per student spending: $12,639 (total enrollment: 1,049)
> High school graduation rate: 93.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.1%

Source: Bow School District - Dunbarton School District - SAU 67 / Facebook

29. New Hampshire
> Best school district: Bow School District
> Location: Merrimack County
> Per student spending: $18,322 (total enrollment: 1,352)
> High school graduation rate: 95.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 52.0%

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Source: Mountain Lakes School District / Facebook

30. New Jersey
> Best school district: Mountain Lakes Borough School District
> Location: Morris County
> Per student spending: $23,860 (total enrollment: 1,551)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 87.3%

Source: Los Alamos Public Schools / Facebook

31. New Mexico
> Best school district: Los Alamos Public Schools
> Location: Los Alamos County
> Per student spending: $11,609 (total enrollment: 3,509)
> High school graduation rate: 85.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 64.6%

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Source: Katonah-Lewisboro School District

32. New York
> Best school district: Katonah-Lewisboro Union Free School District
> Location: Westchester County
> Per student spending: $31,154 (total enrollment: 3,233)
> High school graduation rate: 94.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 74.2%

Source: Mr. Granger / Wikimedia Commons

33. North Carolina
> Best school district: Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools
> Location: Orange County
> Per student spending: $11,423 (total enrollment: 12,090)
> High school graduation rate: 90.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 72.1%

Source: Google Maps

34. North Dakota
> Best school district: St. Thomas Public School District 43
> Location: Pembina County
> Per student spending: $19,116 (total enrollment: 69)
> High school graduation rate: 83.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 20.4%

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Source: ohschools.k12.oh.us

35. Ohio
> Best school district: Ottawa Hills Local School District
> Location: Lucas County
> Per student spending: $14,222 (total enrollment: 925)
> High school graduation rate: 94.7%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 75.6%

Source: Official Deer Creek High School / Facebook

36. Oklahoma
> Best school district: Deer Creek Public Schools
> Location: Canadian, Logan, and Oklahoma Counties
> Per student spending: $6,674 (total enrollment: 5,319)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 57.6%

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Source: riverdaleschool.com

37. Oregon
> Best school district: Riverdale School District 51J
> Location: Clackamas and Multnomah County
> Per student spending: $14,692 (total enrollment: 588)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 79.5%

Source: OnlyInAmerica / Wikimedia Commons

38. Pennsylvania
> Best school district: Tredyffrin-Easttown School District
> Location: Chester County
> Per student spending: $16,156 (total enrollment: 6,553)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 77.0%

Source: 0xF8E8 / Wikimedia Commons

39. Rhode Island
> Best school district: Barrington School District
> Location: Bristol County
> Per student spending: $14,102 (total enrollment: 3,288)
> High school graduation rate: 94.1%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 67.2%

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Source: PK_Knighthawks / Twitter

40. South Carolina
> Best school district: York School District 4
> Location: York County
> Per student spending: $8,880 (total enrollment: 12,256)
> High school graduation rate: 97.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 45.0%

Source: southcentral.k12.sd.us

41. South Dakota
> Best school district: South Central School District 26-5
> Location: Gregory County
> Per student spending: $15,041 (total enrollment: 121)
> High school graduation rate: 88.9%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 18.1%

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Source: WCSedu / Twitter

42. Tennessee
> Best school district: Williamson County School District
> Location: Williamson County
> Per student spending: $8,408 (total enrollment: 35,578)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 58.4%

Source: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

43. Texas
> Best school district: Eanes Independent School District
> Location: Travis County
> Per student spending: $9,534 (total enrollment: 7,971)
> High school graduation rate: 95.1%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 78.4%

Source: VCBO / Wikimedia Commons

44. Utah
> Best school district: Park City School District
> Location: Summit County
> Per student spending: $11,238 (total enrollment: 4,872)
> High school graduation rate: 89.1%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 63.0%

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Source: sbschools.net

45. Vermont
> Best school district: South Burlington School District
> Location: Chittenden County
> Per student spending: $18,387 (total enrollment: 2,429)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 53.2%

Source: FCCPS / Twitter

46. Virginia
> Best school district: Falls Church City Public Schools
> Location: Falls Church city
> Per student spending: $17,902 (total enrollment: 2,465)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 80.2%

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Source: Islander_gators / Twitter

47. Washington
> Best school district: Mercer Island School District
> Location: King County
> Per student spending: $10,624 (total enrollment: 4,446)
> High school graduation rate: 95.1%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 78.2%

Source: lfruberg13 / Flickr

48. West Virginia
> Best school district: Jefferson County School District
> Location: Jefferson County
> Per student spending: $11,128 (total enrollment: 9,066)
> High school graduation rate: 83.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 29.9%

Source: CedarburgSD / Twitter

49. Wisconsin
> Best school district: Cedarburg School District
> Location: Ozaukee and Washington County
> Per student spending: $10,232 (total enrollment: 3,001)
> High school graduation rate: 100.0%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 52.8%

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Source: Greg Hursley / Teton County Schools

50. Wyoming
> Best school district: Teton County School District 1
> Location: Teton County
> Per student spending: $17,713 (total enrollment: 2,691)
> High school graduation rate: 90.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 53.8%

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Approximately 43% of school funding comes from state governments. Just as the quality of school districts vary heavily within a state, the quality of state education systems vary heavily across the country. In a report provided by Education Week ranking statewide education systems, states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York rank as some of the states with the best schools. Meanwhile, states such as Texas, California, Arizona, and Alabama rank towards the bottom.

Of the top 100 ranked school districts in the country, 29 are in New York, 18 are in New Jersey, 14 are in Ohio, and 11 are in Massachusetts. Of the 100 worst ranked school districts, 11 are in Texas, eight are in California, and Maine, Arizona, and Alabama are each home to six.

Similarly, the top school district in one state may be far worse than the top school in another state. The top ranked school district in Montana, for example, would rank as the 166th best school district in New York state.

School spending contributes to better student outcomes, and is one of the largest contributors to the disparity in academic success across the country. With greater funding, schools can afford better teachers, state-of-the-art educational technology, and other resources that help students succeed. In 34 of the 50 school districts with the highest per-pupil spending, the graduation rate is above the 78.2% national figure. In 12 of the 50 districts with lowest spending, the graduation rate is below the national value.

While school spending, the availability of AP classes, and preschool enrollment can all contribute to student success and determine the level of quality of a school district, certain socioeconomic factors also play a major role. Two factors included in the index — adult college attainment rate and child poverty rate — have a major impact on the likelihood of a student’s success in school.

Educated parents are more likely to read to their children, and enhance their children’s development by exposing them to more complex speech patterns and a broader vocabulary. Of the 50 districts with the largest shares of adults with a bachelor’s degree, 49 have graduation rates above the national rate.

Family income may have the largest direct impact on a student’s academic outcomes. Parents with greater financial resources have the ability to move to more expensive communities with better schools. They can also afford resources to better their child’s education such as tutoring and other extracurricular activities.

Of the 50 districts with the highest child poverty rate — the share of children aged 5 to 17 living with their family who are in poverty — 37 have lower graduation rates than the nation as a whole. All of the 50 districts with the smallest shares of children living in poverty have graduation rates above the national rate, and 17 have graduations rates of 100%.

To determine the worst school district in every state, 24/7 Wall St. developed an index
based on various socioeconomic measures, school finance, student success, and environmental factors. The share of children aged 5 to 17 living with their family who are in poverty as of 2016 came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program and was included in the index. Per-pupil expenditure for 2015 came from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances and was included in the index. The percentage of high school students who graduated on time in the 2009-10 school year came from the National Center for Education Statistics and was included in the index. The number of teachers per student in the 2015-16 school year also came from the NCES and was included in the index. The share of adults aged 25 and over with at least a bachelor’s degree and the share of 3 and 4 year-olds enrolled in school came from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey and were included in the index. Additionally, the share of high school students enrolled in AP classes in 2013 came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection and was included in the index. All data are for the most recent period available.