Public School Spending In 2015: Data from the U.S. Census Bureau

Wait until next year! When the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2015 data on public education finance last month, I thought that instructional (ie. teacher) wages and benefits per 20 students in the New York City public schools might exceed $300,000 for that year. But instead it came it came up just short at $297,482. Moreover, total spending per student in the NYC schools also came up just short of Greenwich, Connecticut, at $25,068 compared with $25,737. Thought NYC did spend more per student than Westport ($23,798) or Darien ($20,805).

Those are among the tidbits that can be gleaned from my compilation of this data, for 2015 and (with an adjustment for inflation) 2005. As is my custom, I’m going to provide the spreadsheets now, think about them for a while, and then provide my analysis and express my opinion. The data presented includes revenues and expenditures per student, by category, for the U.S., New York City and other regions of New York State, selected other states, and every school district in New York and New Jersey. In some cases with and without an adjustment for the higher cost of living on the Northeast corridor, which reduces the value of school spending here compared with the U.S. average. A discussion of where the data comes from and how it was tabulated (mostly copied from last year) and links to the new spreadsheets, follow.

The data, direct from the Census Bureau, may be found here. With a different URL than last year.

The Bureau’s own PDF report for FY 2015 is here.

The key report tables are 11, per pupil spending by category and state, and 12, spending per $1,000 of personal income (which also adjusts for differences in the relative cost of living). The data shows New York State is number one in spending per $100,000 of state residents’ personal income on instruction, and at the top in overall spending as a percent of personal income aside from high mineral tax revenue, low population states such as Alaska and Wyoming.

Along with table 18, per pupil expenditures of the 100 largest school districts. It shows New York City at the top with regard to per student spending among those school districts, on instruction and overall.

I download the detailed data to get information on every school district in NY and NJ. I download the “All Data Items” spreadsheet to get some information that isn’t available in the individual unit file, notable wages and salaries, benefits and other expenditures for the non-instructional category in total.

Unlike the data in the Census Bureau’s report, which mostly focuses on “current expenditures,” I also include capital expenditures and interest payments.

Private school payments, and payments to private charter school operators, are excluded from per student spending because their students are not included in the Census Bureau’s fall student count. According to the Census Bureau, charter schools chartered by state and local governments are supposed to be included in the general data, with their revenues and expenditures reported by category (teacher wages, food services, etc.) rather than in the aggregate. Their enrollment is also reported.

Also excluded from the per-student figures in my tabulation are non-elementary and secondary school expenditures: adult education for example. You can see the formulae in the big spreadsheets to see how I change things. The data as downloaded is on the right. I basically just copied the formulae from last year.

Within New York State, as I define them, the “Downstate Suburbs” are Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties. The “Upstate Urban” counties are Albany, Broome (Binghamton), Duchess, Erie (Buffalo), Monroe (Rochester), Niagara, Oneida Utica), Onondaga (Syracuse), Orange, Rensselaer (Troy), Saratoga and Schenectady. The “Rest of New York State” is mostly rural and small town, but includes small cities such as Elmira, Jamestown, Cortland, Oneonta, Amsterdam, etc.

Unlike last year, two NY State school districts report a level of expenditure per student that is lower than the U.S. average of $13,107: the Central Valley Central School District ($10,246) and the General Brown Central School District ($12,588). Two districts that have brought up the rear in the past are next, but above the U.S. average: the Franklin Square Unified School District ($13,184 – after an adjustment downward for the average non-finance wage in Downstate NY) and the Victor Central School District ($13,612). The highest spending districts in New York area those in vacation areas with small numbers of school children and extensive taxes paid by second homeowners – the Fire Island Union Free School District at $141,028 for example. A major capital expenditure can also raise spending temporarily.

I adjust for the cost of living in some areas. In high-wage, high-cost areas, more must be spent to provide teachers and other education professionals with a comparable standard of living, relative to the U.S. average. But the capacity to pay higher taxes is also greater there. I adjust spending per student downward on the on the Northeast Corridor to remove this excuse for expensive spending. In the big spreadsheets with data for all school districts, Revenues and expenditures per student are provided both with and without the cost of living adjustment. In the detailed spreadsheet, the rows with a cost of living adjustment carry an “*” next to the name of the area.

The cost of living adjustments are based on the average private sector wage, excluding the overpaid finance and insurance sector in places where it skews the numbers: Downstate New York and Connecticut. In 2015, according to Employment and Wages data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the payroll per private sector worker in Downstate New York (finance excluded) was 28.0% above the U.S. average. Since 1/1.280 is 0.78, adjusted figures for New York City and the Downstate Suburbs are multiplied by 0.780 to make them comparable with the U.S. average. The adjustment is greater for 2005, when the payroll per employee of those working in Downstate New York was 30.6% above the U.S. average. The extent to which workers in New Jersey and Connecticut earn more than the U.S. average has gone down even more, along with the adjustment. A spreadsheet with the data (through 2016), for anyone interested, is here.

Covered Employment Gov-Related-01-15

These adjustments are provided to make these areas more fairly comparable with the U.S. average. Since for some adjustments may raise questions, however, I also provide a comparison of unadjusted data on a “comparable state” basis.   In this comparison, Upstate New York is held to be comparable with Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Vermont. Downstate New York is held to be comparable with Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland.

If you provide a downward adjustment for the higher average wage/cost of living in Downstate New York, spending per student in New York City, and on average in the Downstate Suburbs, Upstate Urban Counties and the Rest of New York State is similar – and far higher than anywhere else.

I also provide data for the states adjacent to New York, Oklahoma to provide a “Red State” comparison, Ohio, a state that is in some ways similar to Upstate New York, and Maryland, also on the Northeast Corridor. Along with Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee, and the city of Detroit.

Data items include instructional and non-instructional spending, in total and on wages and salaries and benefits, along with non-instructional spending by category on pupil support, instructional staff support, general administration (office of the superintendent and central staff, school administration (office of the principal and other school-based administrators, operation and maintenance of plant (including the custodians, student transportation, and food services. Along with capital expenditure, interest payments, and debt outstanding.

The FY 2015 spreadsheet with per student data for all the states and school districts included is here.

Public School Finance NY-NJ-15

FY 2005 spreadsheet, including data with and without adjustment for inflation into $2015 for a fair comparison with the latest year, is here.  See tabs on the bottom to see the two worksheets, with and without the adjustment.

Public School Finance NY-NJ-05

I’m not sure FY 2015 was a particularly meaningful year for NYC school finance. It is past the end of the Bloomberg Administration, but is too soon to reflect changes due to the DeBlasio Administration. Particularly since much of the increase pay in the latest teacher contract won’t hit the books until 2018. Meanwhile, financial disaster due to soaring pension costs is only gradually being admitted and paid for elsewhere in the country, with possible big changes in later years.

But a 2005 to 2015 comparison gives an idea where things are going. Even if the conclusions are not likely to differ too much from what I found last year comparing 2002 to 2014, from the last budget before to the last budget of the Bloomberg Administration.

A series of tables comparing 2005 with 2015 for broader areas, with New York City compared with the other regions of New York State, other states, and the United States, is here.

Summary FY 2005-15 Census Public School Finance Per Student

This one is designed to be easy to print out and look at, though I’m not sure what your spreadsheet program will do with it.

Finally, this file includes the charts I’m likely to use when I do write commentary on the state of New York City public school finance. It’s a little balky and shuts down from time to time for some reason, but if you can’t work and prefer charts to tables, you can find the charts here.

Census Public School Finance Charts 2015

One more point. Based on a change in the way the City of New York reports it, $1.354 billion spent in FY 2015 on schools as a special benefit to teachers – a guaranteed 7.0% return on their non-pension retirement savings – was made to disappear from Census Bureau public employee pension data. So the first thing I did was to review this dataset to see if they might have made that spending disappear from the public school spending per student in NYC as well. As best as I can tell, that is not the case as of FY 2015. But those sending along this data ought to know I am checking.