Census Education Finance Data for FY 2011

The U.S. Census Bureau has released its public education finance data for FY 2011, and I have once again downloaded and compiled it.  That year New York City spent $22,517 per student, somewhat lower than the average of $23,382 for the Downstate Suburbs but far more than the $17,440 for New Jersey, $18,945 for Upstate New York, and $12,367 for the U.S. as a whole.  As usual I have adjusted some of these figures for the higher average private sector wage and cost of living in some locations, notably Downstate New York and New Jersey.  This reduces the NYC figure to $17,548 per child, still 41.9% higher than the U.S. average but below the average for Upstate New York.

New York City’s “non-instructional” spending has always been very low compared with other areas.  In FY 2011 the city’s “instructional” spending was $11,791 per student with adjustment, above the adjusted averages of $11,258 for the Downstate Suburbs and $7,895 for New Jersey, above the average of $10,726 for Upstate New York, and 82.5% higher than the U.S. average of just $6,461.  Examining instructional wages and benefits alone, New York City’s adjusted figure of $10,326 per student was 81.5% above the U.S. average – nearly double — but slightly below the average for the Downstate Suburbs at $10,645.  The city’s instructional wages and benefits per student had been above the average for the Downstate Suburbs the year before.  The city remained well above the average for Upstate New York and New Jersey by this measure.  Moreover, on an unadjusted, straight dollar basis the city spent $13,250 per student on instructional wages and benefits in FY 2011.  That is $265,000 for every 20 students, or $159,000 for every twelve.  Based on city budget documents, this figure has gone up considerably since.  Additional commentary, and the spreadsheets, may be found below.

In FY 2011 the finances of public schools throughout the nation were dramatically affected by the aftermath of the recession, the exhaustion (or not) of federal stimulus money, and the admission (or not) that past retroactive pension increases and underfunding would require substantial increases in pension contributions at the expense of the classroom.  The headline for the U.S. Census Bureau was that from FY 2010 to FY 2011 per student spending decreased in nominal (not inflation adjusted) dollars for the first time since the Bureau started this data series in 1977.


There was also a significant decrease in the extent to which the average private sector worker in Downstate New York, excluding the financial sector, earns more than the U.S. average.  This had a strange effect on my adjusted data.  Although New York City’s instructional wages and benefits per student decreased 1.6% from FY 2010 to FY 2011 on an unadjusted basis, they increased 2.0% on an adjusted basis – because the city’s teachers were still getting richer per student relative to what other workers were paid (and thus the taxes they could afford).  Thus I adjusted the per student figures for NYC and the Downstate Suburbs downward to make them comparable with the U.S. average, but not by as much as before.

The first spreadsheet compared spending in FY 2010 to FY 2011 on a nominal (not inflation adjusted) basis, and FY 2008 with FY 2011 on an inflation adjusted basis.  It is here, and set to print on two 8 ½ by 11 pages, at least in my version of Excel.

Census Public School Finance Per Student FY08 FY11

Without adjustment, from FY 2010 to FY 2011 total school spending per student fell 1.1% in the U.S. and 4.1% in New York City, but it increased 2.3% in the Downstate Suburbs and 0.8% in Upstate New York.  The main factor in the New York City decrease was a 25.5% plunge in capital expenditures.  The city’s instructional wages and salaries per student fell 4.0%, as teachers who retired early were not replaced and class sizes increased, and its instructional benefits per student increased only 2.7% as the cost of that early retirement pension deal was not fully paid for.  The per student wages and benefits of the Downstate Suburbs increased 3.7%, to more than the NYC figure, due to an 11.9% increase in benefits, as the state increased the pension contribution requirement.  Per student spending on instructional benefits increased 10.9% in Upstate New York, for the same reason.  In subsequent years NYC has admitted additional pension increases are required, though not to the extent necessary, and it is likely that NYC’s instructional wages and salaries per student are back on top of the Downstate Suburbs average.

States and school districts were given the option to spend the federal stimulus money for education right away, or defer using it a year or two in case things got worse.  New York State, in a rare example of prudence here, chose to hold onto the extra federal money longer rather than blowing it right away.  So while total federal aid to education per student fell 0.5% from FY 2010 to FY 2011, it increased 57.5% for New York City, 30.8% for the Downstate Suburbs, and 22.0% for Upstate New York.  So what will the data for FY 2012 show for NYC, with the federal stimulus money all used up and pension costs soaring?  Perhaps it will be similar to what happened in New Jersey in FY 2011, when federal funding per child dropped 47.4% because the stimulus money was used up, and total spending per child plunged 6.0%.  Included was a 5.8% decrease in per child spending for instructional wages and salaries for New Jersey teachers that year, even without an adjustment for inflation.  And despite continued pension underfunding in that state.

Taking a longer view, federal education funding per child increased 50.3% from FY 2008 to FY 2011, even after adjusting for inflation, but state per student funding for elementary and secondary education fell 9.0%.   The decrease in state education funding per student, adjusted for inflation (but not for the relative private sector wage and cost of living), was 12.4% for New York City, 3.8% for the Downstate Suburbs, and 0.5% for Upstate New York. Still, New York City accounted for 37.2% of the state’s public school students and 37.1% of state school aid in FY 2011 according to the Census Bureau.

With the housing bubble deflating, local government education revenues per child fell 1.9%, adjusted for inflation, from FY 2008 to FY 2011.  Local government funding per student, adjusted for inflation, increased 4.8% in the Downstate Suburbs from FY 2008 to FY 2011, and 6.7% in Upstate New York. New York City, on the other hand, had a strong 18.8% increase in local government support for education per student, which is the equivalent of 23.2% increase when the falling private sector earnings average is adjusted for.

As has been true for well more than a decade, much of the increase in education funding by New York City taxpayers went to pay for higher pension costs, as instructional employee benefits per student increased 19.9% from FY 2008 to FY 2011, even after adjustment for inflation.  That is an increase of $817 per student over three years in non-cash pay for instructional staff.  Instructional spending per student other than for teachers wage and benefits, perhaps for those contracts the union keeps complaining about, increased by 25.0% more than inflation from FY 2008 to FY 2011, for an increase of $376 per student.

Meanwhile instructional wages and salaries per student fell 2.3% in New York City, adjusted for inflation, from FY 2008 to FY 2011, for a decrease of $198 per student.  Given the rising cost of non-labor instructional spending and, more importantly, instructional employee benefits (and health insurance and pensions in particular), teacher wages – in total – would have had to fall much farther if the city’s economy had been hit harder by the recession, and the city’s per student spending actually fell from FY 2008 to FY 2011.  In fact the city’s per student spending in the public schools increased by 2.2% more than inflation during those years, or 6.0% more than inflation if a shrinking adjustment relative to the U.S. average (because the average city wage earner became relatively worse off) is taken into account.  The damage to the classroom was limited by a property tax increase, a state income tax increase, disproportionate cuts to other city services, and within education, reductions in non-instructional spending.

On the non-instructional side, New York City made steep cuts from FY 2008 to FY 2011 (adjusted for inflation) in several categories where it was already spending far less than the U.S. average.  Instructional staff support was cut 45.7%, general administration was cut 10.8%, and school administration was cut 25.3%.  These drastic reductions were intended to spare the classroom from cutbacks due to rising retirement costs.  The United Federation of Teachers, the union, has deftly pivoted from asserting that the city’s children deserve less good schools because of all the money wasted on administration and useless training and meetings.  To asserting that the city’s children deserve less good schools because certified, professional teachers are not getting enough support from other staff, and training for the Common Core.   The large reductions in instructional staff support and general administration spending per child from FY 2008 to FY 2011 would have been even larger, were it not for large increases from FY 2010 to FY 2011.  So perhaps the shift in complaints had an effect.

In addition to spending more per student on pensions than just about anywhere else, and having teacher pension plans that are further in the hole than just about anywhere else, New York City also had $13,865 in total education debt per student in FY 2011.  That is far above the U.S. average of $8,433 per student, and higher than in other parts of the state.  Even with an adjustment for the higher average private sector wage in Downstate New York, and thus for the presumably greater ability of city taxpayers to carry that debt, the city’s debt load per student is $10,805, or 28.1% above the U.S. average.  Moreover, since the average wages of city residents has been falling relative to the U.S. average, the real burden of carrying that debt increased 12.8% from FY 2008 to FY 2011.

Just as the 2000 and 2008 pension deals created a massive, hidden, off the books debt over and above the official debt just cited, so the condition of and crowding in the city’s schools may be considered an off the books debt.  This debt has diminished in recent years as new schools have opened, enrollment has dropped, and many schools have been rehabbed.  But it has not disappeared, as the controversy over lighting fixtures shows.

The second spreadsheet shows FY 2011 data for all school districts in New York State, the regional and national figures cited above, and average data for the state of Massachusetts, where average spending per student is much lower than in NY even with adjustments made to increase comparability.   Note that the spreadsheet is designed to exclude charter school spending, adult education spending, and non-education spending from the per student totals.

Census Education Finance FY11 All Unit Output

Aside from the big city districts, the school districts are sorted first by county, and then by school district name.  Thus the districts in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties are grouped together, with an asterisk to indicate that the per student figures are adjusted downward for the higher average wage/cost of living to make them comparable with the U.S. average.

On this basis, in only two school districts in New York State was total spending per student lower than the U.S. average:  Victor Central School District in Ontario County and the Floral Park Bellrose Union Free School District on Long Island.  The Berne Knox-Westerlo Central School District in Albany County and the Franklin Square Unified School District on Long Island  were just above the U.S. average.  Most of the highest spending school districts are in places such as the East End of Long Island and the Adirondacks, where second homeowners provide lots of property taxes relative to the small number of students.  Aside from oddities such as Kiryas Joel and Pocantico Hills.

See the “The Latest Public Finance Spreadsheets” tab, and go down to education finance, for past data and detailed information of how I compile it.  Related data on state and local government spending and employment may also be found there.