Public-school per-pupil spending has increased for the fifth consecutive year, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which finds:

  • Of the 50 states, New York ($23,091), the District of Columbia ($21,974), Connecticut ($19,322), New Jersey ($18,920) and Vermont ($18,290) spent the most per pupil in 2017.
  • Of the 100 largest school systems based on enrollment in the United States, the five school systems with the highest spending per pupil in 2017 were New York City School District in New York ($25,199), Boston City Schools in Massachusetts ($22,292), Baltimore City Schools in Maryland ($16,184), Montgomery County School District in Maryland ($16,109), and Howard County School District in Maryland ($15,921). Maryland had one additional school system in the top 10, making it four of the top 10 school systems in the United States.
  • Within public school systems, New Mexico (14.4%), Mississippi (14.1%), Alaska (14.0%), Arizona (13.7%) and South Dakota (12.8%) received the highest percentage of their revenues from the federal government, while public school systems in New Jersey (4.1%), Massachusetts (4.3%), Connecticut (4.3%), Minnesota (5.2%) and New York (5.3%) received the lowest.

Total nationwide spending for public K-12 education in 2017 was $694 billion, up from $671 billion in 2016. This change represents a 3.4 percent spending increase. In comparison, inflation increased 2.1 percent, and student enrollment increased by just one-tenth of 1 percent (based on Summary Table 19, available here).

When it comes to providing quality education, money matters. But simply spending more doesn’t necessarily mean better quality education—particularly if local school district boards don’t prioritize

instructional spending.

Despite increased education spending that outpaces both inflation and student enrollment increases, only about half (53 percent) of all spending is for instruction, which includes teacher salaries and benefits (based on Summary Tables 1 and 6, available here).

Putting parents in charge of their children’s education dollars would be a more fiscally responsible way to fund American education. Programs such as education savings accounts, or ESAs, do just that. And when parents are free to choose, they opt for educational providers that invest in teachers—because parents know that teachers matter most in providing their children the best possible education.

At current spending levels, excluding spending on capital outlay and debt, there is enough funding to provide every public-school student an ESA worth $12,555. But what would that mean for teachers?

Imagine if under an ESA financing system chosen education providers directed 80 percent of funding to instruction instead of just over 50 percent under the status quo. The average base salary for America’s 3.6 million teachers would be more than $134,000—nearly two-and-a-half times greater than their current average salary of just over $51,000.

Not that would be a win-win for students and teachers.