School funding is a hot-button topic, and many people (rightly) are quick to point out when teachers are forced to work second jobs or fundraise to buy much-needed classroom supplies. But is more school funding the cure-all? HeyTutor, an online tutoring company, crunched the numbers around school performance and funding. Using publicly available data, the report looks at which states spend the most and the least on student’s education. States are ranked by spending per student, and the data notes whether their graduation rates are compared to the national average. Teacher’s average salaries are also included.
Both average spending per student and average salary vary widely. The lowest average teacher salary is $42,668 per year in South Dakota. The highest average is New York State, at $79,637. Student spending also exists in a nearly as wide range. In Utah, only $7,179 is spent per student. New York once again leads the pack with around triple that in student spending: $23,091.
But, at least according to this report, student spending doesn’t necessarily indicate better educational outcomes. Utah, South Dakota, and New York all have above-average graduation rates, for example, despite the vast differences in funding. But the same numbers also show that there are still some correlation to better-funded schools. Of states with significantly above-average graduation rates, only one, Indiana, is in the bottom half of states in student spending. Conversely, the states with graduation rates significantly below average are all in the bottom 25 with the exception of Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. and Alaska are also in the top ten states for student spending, with relatively high teacher salaries as well. However, their below-average graduation rates shouldn’t be seen as a complete disproval of the fact that teacher salary doesn’t positively affect outcomes. D.C. presents something of an anomaly since it’s a city and not a state. Graduation rates are, on the whole, lower in cities than in suburbs. The report from HeyTutor only looks at the state level but unequal school funding can plague suburbs vs. cities as well. Alaska is also a state with notoriously hard-to-staff classrooms. Their relatively high teacher salaries reflect how hard it is to recruit teachers, more or less high-quality ones, to the largely remote state.
Teacher salaries also have a lot to do with where they are in the country: again, with a few exceptions like Alaska, teacher salaries are higher in the Northeast and lower in the South and West. States with lower median incomes also tend to spend less on education. In other words, those who could most benefit from a leg up via a quality education may be more likely to be in under-funded classrooms with underpaid teachers.
Teacher salaries aren’t just about education outcomes for students, either. Teachers have been vocal in the past about the financial strain their profession has put them in. No one should be forced to drive an Uber on the weekends to make ends meet. However, with state averages as low as $42,668 a year, it’s easy to see how many educators (many who may also be parents) can be forced to make that choice.