Idaho spends less per public school student than every other state except Utah and Mississippi, the Census Bureau said Thursday.
The rankings immediately prompted some education officials to advise parents against using a school’s per-pupil expenditure as the sole barometer of their child’s schooling.
“You can’t draw a direct correlation of expenditures to achievement,” said Chris Pipho, who tracks education trends and legislation for the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based group.
Idaho spends $3,602 per student. Utah spends an average of $3,280 per student, while Mississippi spent $3,423.
Idaho officials agree that lots of money does not necessarily result in better education, but there is some truth to the cliche - you get what you pay for.
“We are getting a quality education despite low funding. Teachers are paying for supplies out of their own pockets and parents are holding rummage and bake sales to buy computers,” said Rob Nicholson, research director for the Idaho Education Association.
Teachers in Idaho don’t have the supplies and textbooks they need. Some districts still use ditto machines because they can’t afford copy machines.
“The most recent technological advance in the state is still overhead projectors, not computers,” Nicholson said. “There is a correlation on what you spend. Statewide, teachers are doing an excellent job, but do it under the most extreme conditions.”
Antiquated school buildings and poor working conditions for Idaho teachers hamper education, making it difficult to recruit teachers to the state, Nicholson added.
About two-thirds of Idaho’s teachers will retire in the next five to seven years.
“We need to attract replacements, but those coming in are going to expect the latest in instructional material and technology in the classrooms. They are going to walk into Idaho classrooms and find it’s not there,” he said.
The national average spent per student in 1994 was $5,363, according to the survey, which was compiled by the Commerce Department using Census Bureau data from the most recent year available.
Public schools are financed primarily with local money, usually property taxes.
The figures listed in the survey take into account everything from teacher salaries to wages for cafeteria workers and costs to run after-school and special education programs. They do not include capital outlays - money used to build classrooms or make repairs.
New Jersey, New York, Alaska and Connecticut are the nation’s biggest spenders when it comes to public education.
New Jersey spent an average of $8,902 on each kindergarten through 12th-grade student in 1994, according to the Census survey. New York shelled out $8,162 per student, Alaska paid $7,890, and Connecticut spent $7,629.
Pipho said a hefty portion of a school’s costs typically goes toward payroll expenses. He said states generally spend between 60 and 70 percent of their budgets on salaries, not just for teachers, but support staff, including aides, custodial help, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
“It’s an industry that is very human service driven,” he said. “And so consider when you have a strong union state versus a nonunion state, you’re going to have higher salary schedules in that region.”
Pipho also pointed out that in addition to a school’s per-pupil expenditure, other factors of academic success include the level of education completed by a student’s parents, a family’s income level and whether the student comes from a household with one or two parents.
“Those variables probably will impact achievement nearly as much as what a school would do,” he said. “When you’re dealing with children, you can never isolate the variables.”
Wayne Martin, a spokesman in Washington for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said another variable is a school’s environment.
He pointed out that students in North Dakota, which ranked among the bottom 15 states on the list, earned one of the highest scores in the country’s most recent “report card” by the National Assessment Governing Board, a government body that sets educational standards.
That’s because North Dakota deals with a smaller, more homogeneous student population in a typically less violent environment, Martin said. States with more urban regions tend to spend more money on their students to compensate for the social and economic conditions that face many of them, he said.
“For example, if they’re coming from a poor home - poor in an economic sense, where they may not have had enough to eat or stay warm during the night - that all compounds so that expenditures are more,” he said.
Martin pointed out that the survey appears to reflect the cost of living for each state and reminded parents that the figures simply reflect averages - midpoints between wealthy and poor school districts.
“Let’s pick on New Jersey, because it’s on the top,” he said. “Whether it’s Trenton, Newark or Princeton or Bergen County, you have to have a feel for the kind of range that’s reflected for each one of those averages.”
Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. IN COMPARISON
Idaho spends $3,602 per student in kindergarten through 12th grade, ranking 48th among the states for school spending. Utah spends the least an average of $3,280 per student while New Jersey spends the most $8,902.
2. STATE-BY-STATE SPENDING
A list of states and the average each spent on students grades K-12 in the 1993-94 school year, according to the Census Bureau.
Alabama $3,777 Alaska $7,890 Arizona $4,041 Arkansas $4,060 California $4,917 Colorado $4,772 Connecticut $7,629 Delaware $6,208 Florida $4,934 Georgia $4,663 Hawaii $5,532 Idaho $3,602 Illinois $5,297 Indiana $5,128 Iowa $5,060 Kansas $5,164 Kentucky $5,020 Louisiana $4,049 Maine $5,561 Maryland $6,100 Massacusetts $6,413 Michigan $6,391 Minnesota $5,477 Mississippi $3,423 Missouri $4,483 Montana $4,985 Nebraska $5,410 Nevada $4,658 New Hampshire $5,387 New Jersey $8,902 New Mexico $4,097 New York $8,162 North Carolina $4,521 North Dakota $4,374 Ohio $5,438 Oklahoma $4,265 Oregon $5,588 Pennsylvania $6,579 Rhode Island $6,554 South Carolina $4,304 South Dakota $4,067 Tennessee $3,800 Texas $4,520 Utah $3,280 Vermont $6,269 Virginia $5,135 Washington $5,338 West Virginia $5,247 Wisconsin $6,055 Wyoming $5,515
U.S. average $5,363