Spending per pauper: An education funding stat that makes no sense

price per pauperThere are many in Florida who believe the state doesn’t spend enough supporting K-12 education. It wouldn’t be too difficult to make such a case given the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Florida 39th for per-pupil spending (table 11, page 11) while the U.S. Department of Education places Florida 38th.  Florida’s ranking even falls to 42nd if you include capital and debt expenditures.

So why are some critics ignoring those straightforward “dollars per student” statistics in favor of more convoluted measurements like “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income”?

Several groups in Florida use that statistic to claim the state ranks 50th in education spending. The U.S. Census Bureau’s measurement of “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income” (table 12, page 12) does place Florida 50th, but it is fairly meaningless measurement if your goal is to prove not enough money is spent on K-12 education. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the last-place region on this statistic is Washington, D.C.

Being 51st (D.C.) should be worse than placing 50th (Florida), but when looking at straightforward “dollars spent per student” figures, D.C. spends over $28,000 per pupil (including capital funds and debt). That is nearly three times more than Florida. If the goal is to get Florida to spend more, why cite a statistic that has the biggest education spender dead last?

So how can a region be ranked No. 1 on one measurement, but dead last on another at the exact same time?

This happens because “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income” takes into account both the education revenues and the wealth of the state. Diverting more money to education or becoming more poor are two ways to improve the ranking. Diverting money away from education or becoming wealthier are two ways to worsen the ranking.


To reach the “above average” point on the spending-per-income statistic, Florida would need education revenues of $49.15 per $1,000 of personal income. Without spending a dime more, or less, on education, Florida could boost its ranking to 24th in the nation if its collective income simply shrank by 26 percent.

Florida would become THE POOREST state in the U.S., but we would have above-average education spending – at least according to this misleading metric. Something tells me nobody will be happy with those results.


3 Responses to Spending per pauper: An education funding stat that makes no sense

  1. Ben DeGrow July 15, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    Thanks for your creative approach in dismantling the misguided statistic. It’s a claim we’ve taken down more than once here in Colorado:

    • Patrick R. Gibbons
      Patrick R. Gibbons July 15, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

      You are welcome and thanks for sharing the links. It is funny how many 49th placed states there are in the U.S.

  2. Parent and Teacher July 15, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    The bottom line is neither ranking is any good.