School finance: Issues to consider

The level of spending per pupil at your school and district is important to consider when evaluating your school.

By GreatSchools Staff

State governments as a whole spend more than $500 billion a year on K-12 schools in the United States, according to a recent report from the National Working Group on Funding Student Learning, making education the largest expenditure in most state budgets.

Yet, the report notes, it's difficult to figure out where all this money goes and how the amount spent contributes to student achievement. The report recommends overhauling school finance systems so that the resources can be better spent supporting the ambitious learning goals that the general public demands.

With the current downturn in the economy, school districts across the country are getting hit hard. Most school districts depend on state and local tax revenue, so when state and local budgets take a hit, so do schools. In addition, some school districts have been affected by problems in the financial sector. From Wisconsin to California, school districts have lost money because of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and investment deals gone sour. These financial losses will mean larger class sizes, and cutbacks in programs, supplies and school maintenance projects.

School district spending data on GreatSchools school profiles, which comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), gives you information on the average amount of money spent per student in your district. You'll find this information under the School Environment tab on the school profile.

What the data means

School finance data gives you an indication of how much money is spent per student in your district, and how this amount compares to the state average.

In most school and district budgets throughout the country, the lion's share of the funding goes to instruction and instructional-related services, i.e., teacher and staff salaries.

What the categories mean

What to look for

Questions parents should ask

Want to know more about where the money goes at your school and in your school district? Ask questions like these of your school administrators, school site council and local school board:

Other factors to consider