Supplemental: This is not your father’s per-pupil spending!


Some large DC-area districts:
Per-pupil spending is widely discussed but is sometimes poorly understood.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Ovetta Wiggins offered an intriguing report about per-pupil spending in some large Washington-area school districts.

In the states of Maryland and Virginia, school districts are operated on a county-wide basis. For that reason, the DC area has some of the largest public school systems in the entire country.

Wiggins reported per-pupil spending for the Washington, DC schools and for three large suburban systems in the DC area.

This is the way the spending looked for the 2011-12 school year. In DC itself, the public charter schools spent more than the traditional public schools:
Per-pupil spending, Washington-area school systems
2011-2012 school year

Washington, D.C. traditional public schools: $15,743

Montgomery County, Md.: $12,649
Fairfax County, Va.: $11,704
Prince Georges County, Md.: $10,408

Washington, D.C. charter schools: $18,150
At present, close to half of all DC kids attend its public charters. As you can see, the DC schools, traditional and charter, spent more per-pupil than any of these large suburban systems, all of which are numbered among the nation’s largest districts.

Fairfax County and Montgomery County are among the nation’s wealthiest counties. Prince George's County is the nation’s wealthiest African American-majority county.

The D.C. schools, charter and traditional, outspent them all. This is part of the crazy-quilt pattern of per-pupil spending which obtains across our sprawling, educationally decentralized nation. “This land is each small local school district's land,” as Woody Guthrie once said.

We thought this was an intriguing report. Instead of complaining about something else, we thought we’d just throw it in.

For more detail concerning the study and the districts, you can just click here.


  1. The obvious question is whether equal funding is necessary for equal educational opportunity. Gross inequalities like those in Kozol's time might suggest yes, but perhaps these amounts reflect differences in the cost of infrastructure, salaries and other resources so that providing the same education costs a different amount in different places. It is hard to tell just by looking at the per pupil amounts, but the fact that the charter schools cost more suggests that those schools may cost more to operate for reasons unrelated to what students are experiencing in them (e.g., maybe they are smaller or duplicate support services or must rent buildings instead of already owning them or some such).

  2. Per pupil spending in Montgomery county in the late 60's was the highest then as well. My mom was a librarian and she showed me the media room where dozens of projectors(slide and film) as well as opaque projectors sat idle. Why? I asked. Because they wanted one available for every classroom. This is the way the money is still spent I would reckon. It's close to meaningless in the bureaucratic world of public education.

  3. The Washington Post hires too many young Ivy league graduates.
    Plus there is the jihad they are on.

    1. Why do you waste your time typing something like this?

    2. Until liberals speak out about abuses by the media what happened before can happen again.

  4. For the 21012-2013 year, Arizona spent about $6700 per pupil (43rd in the nation), indicative of the priority a heavily Tehadist state gives to its future. "This is the way the money is still spent, I reckon."

  5. I am not clear on how stories about waste or misspending are relevant to the question of inequality across school districts. These just seem like more attacks on the schools. Are you seriously suggesting that schools not be funded at all because the money is sometimes not used right?

    1. I feel the same about the Pentagon and defense spending across nations. And don't get me started about health care comparisons.

  6. In the Chicago area, affluent suburban high school districts spend considerably more than the city does, and sometimes 60-70% higher than these amounts for the DC suburbs schools (which doesn't seem to coincide with a higher cost-of-living generally on the East Coast and considerably higher property values. Moreover, Chicago is a unit district (high school and elementary combined), and few suburban school districts are. High school expenditures per pupil tend to be about 50% higher than those for elementary districts in the same area.

    The point of these comments is that there are a lot of complexities to these spending numbers. I would hesitate to take them as gospel. I certainly could be wrong, and perhaps the reporters really have done their homework, but I would be surprised if, apples-to-apples, more is being spent per pupil in the traditional DC public schools than in Montgomery County.

  7. I have looked for that Woody Guthrie quote and couldn't find it.

    1. Just Bob reaching for a cultural reference that he always mocks Dowd for doing. And using it to mock our "decentralized" school system. While he portrays, Common Core -- the movement to set the first national, and completely voluntary, standards for elementary education as an evil Bill Gates plot.

    2. All plots by Bill Gates are evil.

    3. This fine post generated twice the commentary as Bob's most recent work on education. Things are looking up for fundraising week.

      I hope this earned Bob another dollar.

  8. Per-pupil spending is widely discussed but is sometimes poorly understood.

    Thanks to this post and the wide discusiion it provoked I now understand it well.

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