Comparative Public Education Finances in FY 2000 and FY 2020:  A Brief Review

As everyone who has gotten their information from New York’s local media over the past 20 years is aware, the New York City schools and its unionized teachers owe the children of New York City nothing, because the schools are underfunded and understaffed, and teachers unsupported by the rest of us, leading to large class sizes and teachers leaving for better jobs.  There is a constant stream of press releases to this effect, and no elected official seeking to maintain perpetual incumbency dares to contradict it.   And those seeking to advocate for more school funding or better conditions for teachers elsewhere would prefer that the New York City public schools not be discussed at all.

So, it has been left to this unpaid avocational blogger to tabulate and publish the readily available data released by the Census Bureau each year on how much New York City schools actually spend, compared with other places and with the past.  Since others are paid to not make this information available.

The past two years, years of pandemic, have been unusual and unrepresentative, and perhaps not relevant to any discussion of choices that have been made.  Therefore, I’m not going to go into the kind of detailed multi-post comparisons I did last year based on FY 2019 data, and two years before that based on FY 2017 data.  But perhaps a simple FY 2020 to FY 2000 comparison will be easier to digest.  A discussion of seven nine charts (sorry, can’t help myself), a correlation analysis, and spreadsheets with data for every school district in New York and New Jersey for FY 2020 and for FY 2000 (adjusted for inflation into $2020) follow.


One could argue that FY 2020 and FY 2021 were the greatest years in the history of the United Federation of Teachers.  One of the big productivity gains in education over the past 50 years has involved the increase in the share of families in which all adults work outside the home.  The schools, therefore, not only provided education, but also child care as well.  During the pandemic, however, that child care was taken away, and the quality of the education fell drastically as well.  As millions of private sector workers lost their jobs, however, everyone at the Department of Education kept getting paid, even if there was nothing for them to do.  

Now that the children are back, no wonder they resent it.  The UFT-backed candidate for Mayor who promised two teachers for every class, so one could move away and in effect retire at age 40 while checking in on Zoom every now and then, didn’t win.  But the UFT did order their state legislators to order the City of New York to hire more teachers, even as enrollment falls.  Because the campaign-contributing union needs more dues-paying members despite falling enrollment, or else it will continue to provide some of the largest class sizes in the state.  We’ll see how many it already had below.

The Census Bureau’s public school finance data has been moved around, and it takes a little work to find it, but it is here.

Those who don’t want to trust my tabulation, and don’t want to bother with checking it against the original data, can download the “Summary Tables” spreadsheet there, or my upload of it here.

The key tabs are 8, “Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary Schools Systems By State;” 12, “States Ranked According to Relation of Public Elementary-Secondary School System Finance Amounts Per $1,000 of Personal Income,” which adjusts to the cost of living in different states and the ability of their residents to pay for schools; and 18, “Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of the 100 Largest School Systems in the United States by Enrollment.”   New York City, helpfully, is right at the top.  

As usual, I downloaded the “all data items” spreadsheet to get some more detailed information on spending by category.  What does it show?

In FY 2020 the average U.S. school spent $15,674 per student, up 29.5% from 20 years earlier after adjustment for inflation.  (The median wage of American workers fell during this time).  For a fair comparison with the U.S. average and Upstate NY I have, as usual, adjusted spending in New York City, the Downstate NY Suburbs and New Jersey downward for the higher cost of living and average income and pay here.  Even with that adjustment, New York City spent $24,707 per student, up 89.2% over two decades (nearly doubling even after adjustment for inflation).  NYC spending was 57.6% higher than the U.S. average in FY 2020, even with that downward adjustment, and well above the similarly adjusted averages of $22,489 for the Downstate Suburbs and $20,081 for New Jersey.  The Upstate Urban Counties, at $24,007, were at about the same spending level as NYC, and the Upstate Rural counties, at $26,271, were somewhat higher.

Note that by category the big increase in NYC spending per student is in instructional employee benefits, due to the massive 2000 and 2008 retroactive pension increases, and all the other pension increases and early retirement incentives in between– with many of the latter passed back when a “teacher shortage” was being claimed.

On instructional (ie. teacher) wages, salaries and benefits alone, the FY 2020 U.S. average spending was $7,106 per student, up 24.9% from FY 2000 after adjustment for inflation.  Even with a downward adjustment, New York City spent $14,260 per student, up 94.8% over two decades (nearly doubling even after adjustment for inflation).  That was more than double the U.S. average, despite downward adjustment for NYC, and well above the similarly adjusted averages of $12,979 for the Downstate Suburbs and $9,001 for New Jersey.  The Upstate Urban Counties, at $12,635, and the Upstate Rural counties, at $13,521, were also lower than NYC with regard to instructional wages and benefits.

With its massive economies of scale, the New York City public schools were once far below the U.S. average in non-instructional spending per student, if a downward adjustment for the higher cost of living here was applied.  Not anymore.  The U.S. average was $5,318 per student in FY 2020, up 34.1% from FY 2020 in $2020.  The New York City average was a slightly higher $5,372 (adjusted) per student, up 86.3% over 20 years – but still less than the $6,844 (adjusted) for the Downstate Suburbs, the $7,297 for the Upstate Urban Counties, the $7,904 for the Upstate Rural Counties, and the $7,339 (adjusted) for New Jersey.

The horizontal orange line shows how things could have gone differently.  Outside NYC, New York’s schools were considered very good in 2000, with funding well above NYC, the U.S. average, or the average of New Jersey, adjusted for inflation and the cost of living.  By 2020, the U.S. average had risen to where other parts of NY state were in 2000.  If other parts of NY state had stayed the same (adjusted for inflation), NYC and New Jersey had risen to that level, then things might have been fair.  Would teachers have fallen behind?  Most school spending is on labor, and this was a period in which the cash wages of most U.S. workers were falling behind inflation while many were being turned into gig workers with no benefits. 

As it is, all parts of NY State, including NYC, and New Jersey blew past where the portions of NY State outside NYC had been in 2000.  Instead of “fiscal equity,” the alleged goal of the Abbot Districts in New Jersey and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in New York, we got fiscal pillage.

Here is the unadjusted data for New York City, compared with other high cost of living states and areas.    In FY 2000, adjusted for inflation into $2020, New York City schools spent $16,878 per student, and owed the children nothing because they were cheated out of $billions.  In FY 2020 the NYC schools spent $32,377 per student, and still owed the children nothing because they were cheated out of $billions.  Despite that $32,377 per student being far higher than the average of $29,470 for the Downstate Suburbs, the average of $22,058 for New Jersey, the average of $20,529 for Massachusetts, the average of $16,621 for California, the average of $23,163 for Connecticut – and the averages or $24,382, $25,890 and $28,310 for Darien, Westport and Greenwich CT, respectively.  Chappaqua was at $34,511, but my hometown of Yonkers was at $24,230.

On instructional wages and benefits alone New York City spent $18,687 per student in FY 2020, which is $373,733 per 20 students.  While having, according to recent reports, among the highest classes sizes in the state, because there weren’t enough teachers, and having turnover, because teachers weren’t paid enough.  Even so, the horizonal line shows how NYC’s spending per student on instructional wages and benefits compares with other high-cost areas around the Northeast.  It is vastly higher.  Only New York’s Downstate Suburbs are close.

Data on instructional employment is found in a different data series.

Unlike the education finances data above, which separates them out, “instructional” in this data series includes both teachers and also other pedagogical employees such as administrators and guidance counselors.

The data show that the “understaffed” New York City schools had 7.5 students per instructional employee in 2020, down from 9.1 in 2000.  Somehow, I think the average class size was a little higher.  The U.S. average was 10.0, down from 11.0.  There were also fewer students per instructional employee in New York City than there were, on average, in New Jersey (8.3), Pennsylvania (9.4), California (13.1), Illinois (9.7), and Ohio (10.1), let alone low tax states such as Florida (11.5), Texas (10.0), Colorado (11.2) and Oklahoma (10.5).  But the Rest of New York State (6.8), Massachusetts (7.2) Connecticut (7.2) and Vermont (6.8) had even fewer students per instructional employees than NYC.

The 7.5 students per instructional employee for NYC is up from 7.3 when I did the same calculation for FY 2019.

And the number of non-instructional employees is up from 19.5 in 2019 to 22.8 in 2020.  Did NYC reduce its headcount slightly relative to the number of students, perhaps because of a hiring freeze or some extra COVID-19-related retirements?  Maybe.  

For NYC, I also had to take a guess that part time employees were half time, because the Bureau’s “individual unit” employment data for 2020 doesn’t provide part time hours, or full-time equivalent employment, as it does statewide.   

In any event, just 7.5 students per instructional employee hardly seems like a shortage of teachers.  And yet that’s what we hear in the media.   Note the recent state legislation to require New York City to reduce class sizes.  The media coverage?  Are smaller class sizes good?  Hey parents, would you like smaller class sizes?  Instead of objecting, Mayor Adams should have demanded answers as to how it is that despite all that instructional wage and benefit spending, despite just 7.5 students per instructional employee, class sizes are so high?  Is it management?   The UFT contract?  Who did this to us?  It should be possible to slash class sizes immediately without spending a nickel more.

You hear the same propaganda about other types of organized, unionized public employees.   For example, this from the New York Post:

Some 524 cops have resigned and 1,072 have retired as of May 31, NYPD pension stats obtained by The Post show.  The 1,596 total is a 38% spike from the same period in 2021, when 1,159 cops called it a career, and a staggering 46% climb from 2020, when 1,092 left the force by the same date.

Anti-cop hostility, bail reform, and rising crime have fed into frustration among the NYPD rank and file, according to one NYPD officer who recently fled for greener pastures at a Long Island police department after 6 1/2 years with the New York’s Finest.

New York City has about 35,000 officers, and they are only required to work 20 years before retiring with a full pension and retiree health care and never doing anything for anyone again.  And what is 35,000 divided by 20, the average number of officers one would expect to retire in a year even if none leave for other reasons?  It is 1,750.  So how is 1,596 a “spike?”  Perhaps because the union wants a $15,000 per year pension increase for officers to stay beyond the 20-year minimum?

Of course, the New York Times says that is the public defenders that are underpaid and leaving.

It seems to be a nationwide propaganda campaign.  I even saw a piece about U.S. public employees leaving, because they deserve more pay, on the PBS Newshour.  Where did they get that information?   Did they spend 15 minutes to check the average level of government employee quits in BLS data?  

What was the typical level of private sector employee turnover, as people move, change careers, find a better job, retire, etc., and how has it changed?  Any media source want to look it up?

Or just download it?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. average private sector quit rate averaged 26.3% per year from 2001 to 2021.  The government quit rate was 8.3%.   Both are higher when the economy is up and other jobs are available, as in 2021, and lower when the economy is down and other jobs are not available (layoffs and firings do the reverse).  

Perhaps there were fewer children per instructional employee in 2020, compared with 2000, because school districts aren’t reducing their teaching and pedagogical administrative staff in proportion to their falling enrollment.  With the relatively large Millennial (Baby Boom Echo) generation exiting school, and a smaller generation behind it, despite an increasing share of children attending kindergarten and pre-kindergarten U.S. public school enrollment increased just 3.4% from 2000 to 2020.  It fell 11.1% in NYC, despite universal pre-K, while falling just 0.8% in the Downstate Suburbs and rising 5.5% in New Jersey, as another generation of parents fled the city’s public schools.

Enrollment also fell in the rest of the Northeast — by 14.8% over 20 years in the Upstate Urban Counties, 22.8% in the Upstate Rural Counties, 8.9% in Connecticut, 6.4% in Massachusetts, 12.1% in Pennsylvania, and 13.6% in Vermont. Isn’t public education better in the Northeast?  I also found decreases of 5.1% in California, 3.9% in Illinois, and 13.5% in Ohio.

Meanwhile, public school enrollment increased by 19.4% in Florida, 30.2% in Texas, 26.0% in Colorado, and 4.9% in Oklahoma.  Isn’t public education worse in these low spending states?  Does this make any sense?  More on that later.

And in any event, just as NYC’s non-instructional expenditures per student are no longer significantly lower than the U.S. average, neither is NYC’s non-instructional employment when compared with its number of students.  

In 2000, New York City had 33.6 students for every non-instructional employee, much higher than the U.S. average of 25.9.  In part because of administrative economies of scale, in part because NYC contracts out services such as school buses and school lunches.  Those private sector workers don’t count as school employees.  Even so, in FY 2020, NYC had just 22.3 students per non-instructional employee, below the U.S. average of 23.2.   The number of non-instructional employees in the NYC public schools, previously low, increased by 31.1% from 2000 to 2020, even as enrollment fell.  

In 2020, however, there were still even fewer students per non-instructional employee in the rest of New York State (15.8) than there were in New York City (22.8).  And the rest of New York State was also low compared with New Jersey (23.9), Connecticut (23.5), Massachusetts (27.8), Pennsylvania (23.9), Vermont (18.2), California (22.6), Illinois (24.7), or Ohio (19.3).  Let alone Florida (26.4), Texas (21.7), Colorado (24.7) or Oklahoma (24.4).

From 2000 to 2020 enrollment in Florida public schools increased by 19.4%, but the number of students per instructional employee fell from 15.2 to 11.5 –which could mean smaller class sizes.  While the number of students per non-instructional employee increased from 18.6, less than the U.S. average, to 26.4, above average, which could mean rising efficiency.  Or so they said.  Remember, Florida is the state most like New York in terms of being extreme (just in the other direction) and deceptive.  So perhaps the numbers reported to the Census Bureau were fudged.

This chart compares expenditures per student in Upstate NY with the U.S. average, and Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Vermont school districts with at least 500 students (Vermont has many school districts with expenses but no children).  

As one can see, Upstate NY school spending per student soared from FY 2000 to FY 2020, with total spending in the Upstate Urban Counties rising from $15,799 per student in 2000 to $24,007 in 2020, and total spending in the Upstate Rural Counties rising from $16,608 to $26,271, inflation-adjusted increases of 52.0% and 58.2% respectively.

The 2020 figures of $24,007 in the Upstate Urban Counties and $26,271 in the Upstate Rural Counties compare with the U.S. average of just $15,674, up just 29.5% over 20 years after adjustment for inflation; $19,268 in Pennsylvania, up 36.4%; $19,024 in Vermont, up 50.8%; and $15,964 in Ohio, up 33.9%.

On instructional wages and benefits alone, the $12,635 per student spent in the Upstate Urban Counties in FY 2020, along with the $13,252 in the Upstate Rural Counties, were far above the averages for Pennsylvania ($9,921), Ohio ($7,279), and Vermont school districts with 500 or more students ($9,240), though all these areas were above the U.S. average, as shown by the orange line.

For the U.S. FY 2020 average of $15,574 per student to be average, however, there have to be some states on the other side.  Including Florida ($11,313), Texas ($13,326), Colorado ($14,451) and Oklahoma ($10,766).  Total spending, adjusted for inflation, increased 29.5% from 2000 to 2020 in the U.S., compared with 7.0% in Florida, 15.9% in Texas, 26.7% in Colorado, and 21.0% in Oklahoma.  Illinois? All that extra spending compared with the U.S. average seems to be non-instructional. That’s bad.

The $4,543 per student in instructional wage and benefits in Florida is just $90,860 per 20 students – compared with $373,733 per 20 students in NYC.  As I have noted elsewhere, while the UFT and NYSUT have repeatedly ordered their state legislators to increase their pension benefits, and their Mayors to increase their out of classroom assignments while decreasing their workday, in Florida America’s least taxed taxpayers are underfunding the pensions that teachers were promised to start with.  But at least they are eligible for Social Security, like teachers in New York and New Jersey.  Teachers in 12 states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas — don’t have coverage arrangements with Social Security.  Teachers in Texas argue that although their salaries are average, low benefits mean they are underpaid.  No one makes the opposite argument in New York.

In addition, three other states — Georgia, Kentucky, and Rhode Island — have varying degrees of coverage that differ by school district.  This source also puts Oklahoma and Utah in the mixed category.

The data used in these charts may be found in this spreadsheet.

Where you can also find a worksheet called R-squared.  I was stuck by falling enrollment in high school spending states and rising enrollment in low school spending states, so I put the 2000-2020 percent change in enrollment, and the level of public elementary and secondary school spending per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income, for all 50 states plus DC, in the same spreadsheet, and measured the correlation between them.  Function @CORREL.

It turns out that school spending and enrollment growth are negatively correlated. ???  States with higher school spending per $1,000 of their residents’ personal income have less enrollment growth and/or greater enrollment decline, as if parents were running away from states that spend more on their kids, and bringing the kids with them. The strength of correlation was 28.3%, meaning that the level expenditures in FY 2020 explained 28.3% of the change in enrollment from 2000 to 2020.  Does that make any sense?

Perhaps it is a spurious correlation, and some additional factor is causing both higher spending and enrollment declines.  More school spending means higher state and local taxes too.  Is the former worth the latter?  I used Google to search for a ranking of teacher union strength by state, and found this.

Ranked 1 to 51, with 1 (Hawaii) the strongest unions and 51 (Arizona) the weakest.  I have no idea who these people are, and no way to judge their rankings.  For one thing, many of the states ranked high for teacher union power are also states where retired teachers don’t get Social Security.  Does that make sense?

(Maybe.  If the union orders the state legislature to retroactively increase pension benefits for teachers with seniority, they get an immediate benefit, while the cost is shifted to the future – future children, future teachers.  Unions seem to like that.  Whereas, entering teachers into Social Security would entail an immediate cost for everyone today, with most of the benefit going to younger and later hired teachers, who would have most of all of their careers to get Social Security credits.  For the past 40 years, just about every public policy decision has benefitted those born earlier at the expense of those born later, not vice-versa, in Red States and Blue States alike and at the federal level.)

In any event, teacher power as measured by the Fordham Institute is positively correlated with higher public school spending per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income.  The negative number is because lower power is a higher number (closer to 51).  As the that number goes up teacher union power goes down, and school spending goes down.  While a lower teacher union power number (closer to number one) is associated with greater teacher union power and with higher school spending.  The correlation is -43.8, meaning teacher union power explains 43.8% of a state’s public school spending as a share of its residents’ personal income.

Put it together, and one finds that teacher union power is negatively correlated with the change in enrollment.  One finds that lower teacher union power (closer to 51) is associated with enrollment growth, while higher teacher union power (closer to 1) is associated with enrollment decline.  Teacher union power explains 45.0% of the change in enrollment.  The other half of enrollment change could be explained by factors such as warn weather, lower housing prices, lower taxes due to spending on other things, etc.  

Parents are fleeing, it would seem, because they are paying more in taxes for schools, but not getting as much in more and better education, at least in their perception, to make it worthwhile — because of the teacher unions.  What they get for added money for schools doesn’t balance the added taxes they have to pay.  And if you think the rising enrollment in two big states explains this, not so.  In the correlation analysis states are not weighted by size, and Texas and Florida count the same as low population states such as Rhode Island and Wyoming 1/51st.

And remember, it is working parents who are paying, because the same union-Democrat Blue states that tend to spend more on schools also tend to have lots of special deals so seniors don’t share in that tax burden.  With state income tax exemptions from retirement income from Connecticut…

To Illinois

California’s Proposition 13, which limits the property taxes for long time residents but taxes the heck out of young homebuyers.

And of course, all public employee retirement income exempted from New York City and New York State income taxes in New York.

Plus the special STAR program for poor seniors, which many state legislators want to modify so that the retirement income of retired public employees doesn’t count as income, so they appear to be “poor” seniors and don’t have to pay property taxes either.

And with more and more of the “education” spending in these states going to retired teachers, who aren’t taxed, you can see why parents would be running away, and taking their children with them.

Kind of an interesting thought experiment if you ask me, although I don’t understand how New York State’s teacher’s union is not ranked number one in power.  Perhaps not in 2000, when it was local 1199 and the Greater New York Hospital Association here, but certainly in 2020.  (Other New York workers not controlling the government in Albany have the least power of the serfs in any state).

In any event, if you’d like a spreadsheet showing the average private sector wage data I used to adjust school spending for the cost of living, it is here.

With a chart here.

Always interesting to me how if you leave out Wall Street, the ratio of Downstate NY to the U.S. average is so stable.

A spreadsheet with all the data for every school district in New York and New Jersey is here.

And one for 2000, with an adjustment for inflation into $2020, is here.

So you could make comparisons for other school districts over 20 years.  Note the school districts, other than the big cities, are in county order, starting with Albany County school districts.

What do I mean by the Downstate Suburbs?  How is all this calculated?  I’m not going to write that up again.   Look to last year’s post.

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