New York has the highest per-pupil spending in the nation, according to a new analysis by the Citizens Budget Commission.
From fiscal year 2010 to 2011, average spending per pupil in the Empire State increased from $18,618 to $19,076, more than 80 percent above the U.S. average, according to the CBC, a nonprofit organization that monitors and researches government finances and advocates for budget reform.
“A lot of times there’s this misconception that New York has an underfunded educational system,” said Elizabeth Lynam, vice president and director of state studies for the CBC. “But there’s more money spent on education in New York per pupil than anywhere else.”
By the numbers
Per-pupil spending figures for a handful of local districts:
• Schenectady City School District — $16,015
• Shenendehowa Central School District — $13,944
• Mohonasen Central School District — $13,361
• Gloversville Enlarged School District — $14,229
• Middleburgh Central School District — $19,968
• Greater Amsterdam School District — $14,892
Source: Citizens Budget Commission
She said there are “distribution issues” — some districts are extremely well-funded while others are not — but the state’s overall education spending is more than adequate.
“Even in this era of budget cuts, we’ve managed to increase education spending,” she said, adding that how school aid is distributed is “a very rich topic.”
Carl Korn, chief press officer for the New York State United Teachers union, blasted the CBC report. He said it should come as no surprise that New York has such high per-pupil spending costs, considering how expensive it is to live in the state, particularly in New York City, Long Island and other downstate suburbs.
“Putting out a report saying that New York leads the country in education spending is like saying the sky is blue,” Korn said.
He noted that the median home sale price in Westchester County is more than $500,000.
“What are teachers in Westchester County supposed to do — live in the North Country and take Amtrak down every day?” he said. “This report fails to provide the necessary context and facts.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that everything costs more in New York.”
Spending varies by region, with districts in Long Island and other suburbs of New York City outspending their upstate peers. Another area of high spending is the Adirondacks, which Lynam attributed to “extremely tiny enrollment” and “huge ancillary costs of transportation” in the region’s more remote districts.
In the Capital Region, per-pupil spending is lower than the state average, according to the CBC.
Korn said New York’s schools generally perform well in rankings and assessments, which suggests the state’s money is well spent. He pointed out that Education Week, a national newspaper that covers K-12 education, recently ranked New York third of all 50 states in its annual state report cards; these report cards grade states in six areas of educational policy and performance.
“There are a lot of successes in the New York public education system,” Korn said.
According to the CBC, New York’s high spending is driven by two factors: salaries and benefits such as health insurance. Instructional salaries in New York average $8,196 per pupil, nearly double the U.S. average of $4,326, while fringe benefits cost New York districts an average of $3,962 per pupil, versus an average of $1,505 nationwide.
“We certainly have well-compensated teachers,” Lynam said. “And we certainly don’t want to be at the bottom of the pack. But we’re so far from that that we could be having a conversation about salaries and benefits.”
The report notes that between fiscal year 2010 to 2011 average spending per pupil for the 50 states and Washington, D.C., fell 0.4 percent, from $10,600 to $10,540. New York was one of 30 states where per-pupil spending increased, and had the highest per-pupil spending in the country in each of the previous five years.
Other high-spending states include New Jersey, which spent $15,968 per pupil in 2010-11, and Connecticut, which spent $15,600.
The data in the CBC report comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, and is the most recent available, according to the CBC.
“This is the first time since the Census began collecting this data [in 1974] that year-to-year spending in the U.S. has gone down,” Lynam said. “But in New York it’s gone up.”