U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics

Updated on January 19, 2024
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Written by
David Mercado
Fact-checked by
Andrea Mercado
U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics 1

The landscape of U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics is shifting dramatically. In 2021, the spending per student surged by 6.3%, marking the largest year-to-year increase in over a decade​​. But that's not all. The way this money is spent is also evolving, with a notable decrease in the percentage of expenditures on staff salaries and an increase in benefits over the past decade​​. Let’s take a closer look at these statistics, exploring what they mean for the present and future of education in the U.S.

Spending on postsecondary education is equal to 2.5% of the U.S. GDP

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (or NCES), in 2020 the spending on postsecondary education in the US amounted to 2.5% the GDP, indicating a significant investment in the education sector relative to the overall economy. This meant that $36.172 was being spent per full-time post secondary student, being the second highest after Luxembourg ($53,421), and nearly double the OECD average ($18,105), leaving a good image if we think on World Education Spend terms.

Public school spending per student saw the largest year-to-year increase since 2008

The United States Census Bureau released a report confirming that public school spending per student experienced the largest fiscal year-to-year increase since 2008: a solid 6.3%. The spending went up from $13,501 in FY 2020 to $14,347 in FY 2021, while enjoying an elementary and secondary education revenue increase of 5%.

U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics 2

Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools were $870 billion

According to a report from the NCES, Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States were $870 billion in 2019–20. That amounts to an average of $17,013 per public school pupil enrolled in the fall of that school year. Also, the report showed that between 2010 and 2020, around 80% of current education expenditures were allocated to staff salaries (56%) and benefits (24%) and the rest to capital outlays.

U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics 3

US Spending on Public Schools in 2019 was the highest since 2008

According to a Census Bureau report, the US spent $752.3 billion on its 48 million children in public schools in fiscal year 2019, a 4.7% increase from the previous year and the most per pupil in more than a decade. At the same time, total revenue increased by 4.5% from fiscal year 2018. 

The average expenditure was $15,810 per student​ in FY 2019

A USA Facts report on the current state of education in the US revealed that, during the 2019-20 school year, there was $15,810 spent on K-12 public education for every student in the US. This meant that education spending per K-12 public school students has nearly doubled since the 1970s.

In case you don’t know, K-12 public education refers to the publicly supported primary and secondary education system in the United States (and Canada). It includes kindergarten and grades 1 through 12, hence its name. The K-12 system is broken down into three stages: elementary school (Grades K to 5), middle school (Grades 6 to 8) and high school (Grades 9 to 12). 

New York spent the most per student ($29,597), while Idaho spent the least ($9,690) during the 2019-2020 school year​

The education spending mainly consists of instruction, but according to the NCES, a third of it may include support services such as administration, maintenance, and transportation. Spending per student can vary depending on many factors, including state and district. Based on states, it was New York the state that spent the most per student, with $29,597 while Idaho was the one which spent the least with only $9,690 during 2019-2020.

The average public school teacher salary was $66,397

That same report revealed that the average salary for a public school teacher during 2021-2022 was $66,397, meaning a 5.13% decrease from the previous fiscal year which was around $69,980. 

35% of people aged 25 and over had at least a bachelor’s degree​

The US Census Bureau shared data on Educational Attainment, which is defined as the highest level of formal education a person has completed, and revealed that, in 2021, 35% of the population aged 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree. This meant a 6.5% increase in a decade, since by 2011, only 28.5% percent of people aged 25 and over had one. The data also revealed that over the last decade women have become more educated than men. In 2021, 63% of Washington, DC’s 25 and older population had at least a bachelor’s degree, making it the leading state in the US while West Virginia was the last with 24.1%.

The U.S. Department of Education spent $222.48 billion in 2022

According to an article by NutMeg Education, The U.S. Department of Education spent $222.48 billion in 2022. That was a 14.57% decrease from previous year’s $260.45 billion, but still a much larger spending compared to the predictions for 2023, which rounded $185 billion.

Utah is currently the state with the lowest Public Spending

The same article showed that Utah, with just $7,628, sits last as the state with the lowest public spending on education. That’s equal to 3.37% of the taxpayer’s income.

New York is currently the state with the highest Public Spending

On the other hand, with a staggering $24,040, New York is the state that spends the most on public education.  Actually, that budget puts it 90% above the national average.

U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics 4

Various Government Education Sub-Components received significant funding

Such was the case of the Office of Federal Student Aid and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Every year, federal agencies receive funding from budgetary resources, and most recently the Department of Education distributed approximately $94.06 billion between its ten sub-components. The Office of Federal Student Aid was the most funded sub-component with $28.43 billion followed by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services ‘only’ got $4.41 billion despite being in third place, highlighting the huge amount of resources the previously mentioned offices received.

The US also spends heavily on public education in other countries

The U.S. Government, primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State, does provide funding for educational initiatives in other countries. This funding is part of the U.S. foreign aid budget and is directed towards various educational programs and projects around the world. These programs include basic education, higher education, vocational training, teacher training, and educational policy development. For FY 2023, the total budget requested for the State Department and USAID was $60.4 billion, meaning a 6% increase from the FY 2022 request.

Final Thoughts

The statistics on U.S. public education spending offer a snapshot of the current investment in the minds and futures of their children. These figures are not just fiscal data; they are a reflection of their priorities and values as a society. As mankind moves forward, it is imperative to align these investments with real efforts that impact the challenges of the 21st century. After all, if the defense spending speaks about a country’s military power — either to defend or attack others — the education spending speaks about its ability to bring peace to the world.


National Center for Education Statistics

The United States Census Bureau

NCES report on expenditures

Census Bureau Report

USA Facts

Data on Educational Attainment

NutMeg Education

USAID FY 2023 Budget Request

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David Mercado is an experienced writer and marketer with over 5 years of experience covering topics like online business, digital marketing, technology, and personal finance. David is especially passionate about leveraging technology and the internet to help everyday people achieve financial freedom and build income streams through online marketing and entrepreneurship. His practical advice helps his readers successfully launch online businesses, optimize their digital marketing funnels, and utilize tools to boost productivity.
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