Just Facts: Public School Funding Per Student Averages 80% More Than Private Schools

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According to the New York Times, one of the main reasons why public K–12 schools are reopening more slowly from Covid-19 lockdowns than private schools is because public schools generally have less money. Times reporter Claire Cain Miller makes this claim three times in a single article, but her assertion is the polar opposite of reality and has been so for decades.

Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) estimated that public K–12 schools spent an average of 43–52% more per student than private schools in the 1991–92 school year. Since then, DOE data shows that inflation-adjusted average spending per public school student has risen by 40%.

Consistent with that DOE data, new research by Just Facts reveals that average public K–12 school funding per student is about 80% higher than private schools. Specifically, the latest DOE data shows that governments spent an average of $14,439 for every student enrolled in K–12 public schools in the 2016–17 school year. In comparison, Just Facts estimates that private schools spent an average of $8,039 per student in the same year.

The figure for private school spending was determined by Just Facts with data from the DOE and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. All methodological details are provided in the footnotes located here, and all data and calculations are shown in this spreadsheet.

Furthermore, DOE’s figure of $14,439 for public school spending per student doesn’t include the costs of state government administration, unfunded pension liabilities, and public worker post-employment benefits (like health insurance). In contrast, Just Facts’ figure of $8,039 for private schools is comprehensive and includes all spending by private consumers, nonprofit organizations, and governments. This means that the full public schooling funding advantage is greater than 80%.



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