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K-12 Education Spending Spotlight: An in-depth look at school finance data and trends

From: Reason Foundation


Reason Foundation’s 2022 K-12 Education Spending Spotlight includes both real and nominal U.S. Census Bureau data for all 50 states dating back to 2002, which is the starting point for continuous state-level summary figures.

Reporting from the 2020 fiscal year is the most recent school finance data available at this time. Reason Foundation’s K-12 Education Spending Spotlight data analysis and dashboard with 2019 data can be found here.

2020 Data Highlights

  • Inflation-adjusted per-pupil education revenue increased in 49 of 50 states between 2002 and 2020.
  • While spending went up, 22 states plus the District of Columbia saw declines in student enrollment during this time.
  • Between 2002 and 2020 total education spending on employee benefits (such as pensions and healthcare) in the U.S. nearly doubled from $90 billion to $164 billion a year.
  • Overall inflation-adjusted spending on salaries grew much less – from $342 billion to $372 billion – in this time period.
  • Per-pupil education spending on total benefits increased by an average of $1,499 while per-pupil spending on total salaries increased by $492 between 2002 and 2020.
  • All 50 states saw real per-pupil spending increases on total benefits between 2002 and 2020. During that time, 14 states saw benefit spending grow by over 100% and two states saw growth of 200% or more.
  • In 2020, total education system long-term debt surpassed $500 billion, reaching a total of $505 billion in the U.S. Between 2002 and 2020 long-term debt grew by $188 billion or $3,798 per student.

K-12 Education Revenue Growth

Nationwide, inflation-adjusted per-pupil K-12 revenues grew by 25%—or by $3,211 per student—between 2002 and 2020. During this time, per-pupil revenues increased in all but one state (North Carolina). Sixteen states, plus D.C., increased their education funding by 30% or more during this time period. In the most recent year, education spending grew by $8 billion across the United States, for an average increase of $169 per-pupil from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2019-2020 school year.

Read more here and explore various data and national education spending trends using the drop-down and slider in the interactive map.