Public education is one of the most expensive institutions funded by state coffers, particularly because most children in a given state use public education for 12 or so years. U.S. elementary and secondary schools spent roughly $610.1 billion in total expenditures in 2008-09, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But where exactly does money spent on education go? There are numerous types of expenses related to public education, including the buildings themselves; textbooks; supplies; and the salaries of teachers and staff.
Different states, and indeed different districts within each state, often prioritize certain needs over others. Additionally, school districts in poorer neighborhoods face much more difficult budget decisions than their more affluent counterparts. But the following article is intended to provide a general overview of how money spent on education is actually used.
Typical School Expenditures
While different districts may have different expenses, most schools have the same basic costs:
Many school districts total their expenditures and divide by the number of students in the district to determine "per pupil" expenses. Per-pupil expenses range from $6,000 in some Utah districts to $19,000 in Washington, D.C.
Restricted v. Non-Restricted Money
School administrators do not have complete discretion when deciding how to allocate funds. Some of the money that flows into the school district is already earmarked for some purpose. For example, a football booster club may donate tens of thousands of dollars to a local school district in order to build a new football field, bleachers, and a scoreboard. Alternatively, a parent-run foundation may give money to a school district in order to purchase new science equipment. Schools are then required to use that money for these limited purposes.
Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.