In fall 2015, more than 50 million children in the US attended a public primary or secondary school to receive an education. But how much does an education in the US cost?
Well, it depends where you live.
The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that the average per-student expenditure in public schools was $12,605 for the 2015-16 academic year.
Utah spends around $6,555 per pupil while New York spends $19,818, according to a report by the US Census Bureau. This number even varies by school districts. At the low end of spending in the 100 largest school districts in the US is Jordan, Utah, at $5,708 per student; at the high end is Boston, Mass., at $20,502.
One reason for the difference is the varying cost of living nationwide, which affect everything from teacher salaries to building and maintenance fees. Another reason is education spending in high- or low-income areas.
“What it says very clearly is that we have, in many places, school systems that are separate and unequal,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “Money by itself is never the only answer, but giving kids who start out already behind in life, giving them less resources is unconscionable, and it’s far too common.”
Read More: The Value of Education
Federal data shows that there is a gap between education spending in the nation’s poorest and most affluent school districts, and in 23 states, richer school districts get more funding than the poor districts.
Nationwide, an average of 15 percent less per pupil is spent in the poorest school district than in the most affluent, according to the Washington Post.
In the US, public schools are funded by state, local, and federal governments. This funding is reliant on income and property taxes, which poses a threat to poorer areas of the country and causes funding disparities.
Because the funding provided comes from income and property taxes, the wealthier districts are able to collect more for funding. This often results in low-income families with the highest needs receiving the least resources available, the least-qualified teachers, and substandard learning facilities.
This means that in public schools, the majority of children will enter their first year behind their more privileged peers, and they may never catch up. This also means that education policy and funding decisions must be adapted to help those children who come to school every day to learn.
Read More: Quality Education Is Key to Ending Poverty
Children living in poverty not only receive less education funding, but are also at a disadvantage with more intensive needs, such as learning disabilities or lack of prior education, than their affluent peers, which is unfortunate because the 51 percent of public school students in the US come from low-income families.
“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”
Read More: The 30 Million Word Gap of Poverty
Relying on property taxes as a means of public school funding is unfair to children. We should be doing everything we can to improve their access to education, not hinder it with disproportionate funding.
As Global Citizens, we must take action to improve the access and equality of education in the US and around the world.
Last year, only 2 percent of humanitarian aid funding was spent on education. Together we must raise our voices to ensure that equitable and quality education is available to all. You have the power to speak out and tell world leaders that the time to invest in education is now.
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