Minnesota spends more than most states to educate each student

/ 1 July 2012 / jennifer

Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, July 1, 2012 –

Minnesota puts more of its education funding per student into the classroom and spends more on district administration when compared with most other states.

But the state spends less on principals and student support services.

And overall, Minnesota spends more than the national average by $70 per pupil — $10,685 a year to educate the typical student. When federal, state and local funding sources are combined, Minnesota public schools spend more than $10 billion annually.

Those statistics are found in the pages of financial data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in its annual state-by-state survey of public K-12 education funding. The numbers provide a detailed look at how schools across the country spend their money, but they don’t necessarily shed much light on how funding and spending affect performance.

Detailed financial information is collected each year from all 15,345 school systems nationwide, said Stephen Wheeler, statistician for the census bureau.

The survey found that in 2010, the last year complete data was available, public schools received $593 billion in funding from local, state and federal sources, a half percent increase from the previous year.

Meanwhile, state funding nationwide dropped by $18 billion and was replaced by a similar increase in federal spending, likely because of the federal economic stimulus, the bureau found.

Total expenditures by public schools declined, dropping 0.4 percent, the federal data show.

“That is the first time it has decreased since we started collecting the data,” Wheeler said. The bureau has done the education spending survey since 1977.

Minnesota ranks 17th-highest in the nation in money spent per pupil on instruction, the data show, with the state spending $7,082 per student on average. The state ranks 22nd-highest in the nation in overall per-pupil spending, putting an average of $10,685 toward each student’s education.

Wisconsin, for comparison, spends slightly more overall per student at $11,364, but a little less on instruction with $6,931 per pupil, the data show.

Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, said how much the state puts toward education and how those resources are allocated tend to stack up well when compared with other states.

Bartholomew noted that Minnesota ranks seventh-highest in money that comes from state funding sources and 32nd-highest in money derived from local sources like property taxes. State funding makes up 58 percent of the typical Minnesota school’s revenue, and 30 percent comes from local sources; the remainder is federal funding.

Minnesota also ranks high when it comes to “compensating” districts that serve large populations of poor and minority students, Bartholomew said, citing a 2006 study by the Education Trust.

It is hard to see how these dollars specifically affect student achievement, he said, and where putting additional money would help improve performance.

“Obviously, money is key. Nobody is going to deny that,” Bartholomew said. “If we want to move up that chart, the two questions that come along with it are: What is the benefit to students? How are we going to address underlying cost drivers?”

State education funding has remained flat or risen less than inflation in recent years. Coupled with declining enrollment statewide, school districts are under pressure to cut budgets and find other ways to save money.

Nevertheless, a look at the extremes in state-by-state education spending helps to put Minnesota school expenditures in perspective. Schools in Washington, D.C., spent the most per student, $18,667, and Utah spends the least, $6,064 per student.

Experts warn that the state-by-state data have limitations and can’t necessarily be used to predict student achievement.

Many of the states that put a lot of money into instruction scored well on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a measure of student achievement, but not all.

For example, Massachusetts and New York both funnel more money than the national average into the classroom, yet New York routinely has test scores in the middle of the pack while Massachusetts ranks in the top five.

Washington, D.C., schools spend about $8,000 more than the national average per pupil, but they routinely have some of the lowest scores on national math and reading tests.

The survey doesn’t account for cost of living, Wheeler said, so states in which it is more expensive to live typically spend more on education. All nine New England states are in the top 15 in per-pupil spending, and out of the 16 states with the lowest spending, 15 are in the South or West.

Michael Griffith, a school funding analyst for the Education Commission of the States, said that while census data provide interesting information, they should be considered cautiously. Districts across the country account for spending in different ways and categorize spending differently. And it is difficult to understand the correlation between money and achievement.

“The reason is there are good administrative costs and bad administrative costs,” Griffith said, “just like there are good instruction costs and costs that don’t aid the student.”

It’s nice to know how your state measures up to others. What’s harder to know is how much money is enough, Griffith said.

“We know there is an indirect correlation,” he said. “What we don’t know is: What is the tipping point?”

Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress. Read our blog: Ahead of the Class at http://blogs.twincities.com/education/