Interactive Map: Per-Pupil Costs Vary Widely in New Jersey’s Schools

Biggest total annual spending total last year was staggering $1 billion in Newark

Hover over a district to see its total spent, click for more information. The map does not include charter schools and the county districts and some elementary districts may be obscured by the regional high school districts to which they send students. For data on those districts, and all districts, check NJ Spotlight’s searchable database.

It costs between $8,400 and nearly $100,000 per student to educate and operate New Jersey’s school districts and charter schools, according to new data from the state Department of Education.

The 2014 version of the Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending, released last Friday, provides per-pupil spending data in 17 categories. For most, it ranks how each district’s spending compared with those of similar size and type.

The guide also provides calculations of the grand total cost per pupil to operate New Jersey’s 661 school districts and charter schools, including state payments on behalf of districts for their employees’ pension, Social Security and retirement medical costs, as well as tuition and debt service costs borne by the districts.

That total averaged $18,891 last year, up 4.8 percent from 2011-12.

In calculating those costs, the state counted all students for which a district is responsible, including those it sends out to special-education or vocational schools.

Taxpayer’s Guide to Education 2014
Taxpayer’s Guide to Education 2014

Select per pupil spending categories from the NJ Department of Education's guide. nnSearch by one or more fields.

There’s a wide range of costs, from $8,440 for each of 117 students at the Classical Academy Charter School in Clifton to $93,953 for each of 667 students served by the Bergen County Special Services District.

Because of very small class sizes, special education can be very expensive, and the special services districts that provide that service, and others like transportation, held the top six spots for spending last year.

Avalon, a small K-8 district in Cape May County, ranked most costly among non-special services districts, with a total of $43,775 for each of 106 students. The lowest-spending regular district was East Greenwich, a K-6 in Gloucester, with a cost of $12,585 for each of its 1,203 students.

The grand total spent by and on behalf of some districts can seem staggering. The total cost of education in Newark, the state’s largest district, with nearly 43,000 students, was $1.04 billion. Jersey City, Paterson and Elizabeth all spent more than $500 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, education spending at Classical Academy and in the tiny Stockton K-6 district in Hunterdon County, which with just 52 students is New Jersey’s smallest regular public school district, totaled less than $1 million.

To get an idea of the costs borne by local tax dollars, the guide includes a budgetary or comparative amount per pupil. That is considered a better measure for comparing spending among districts because it includes most items paid with local taxes and state aid. The state average budgeted per pupil this year is $14,781, 4.3 percent higher than what was spent last year. That’s about $4,100 less than the grand total amount spent.

The DOE has been releasing the guide, formerly known as the Comparative Spending Guide, since 1977, as a way for people to see and compare how their school districts are spending money. Three years ago, the state changed the guide to give a more complete accounting of spending.

The the full guide is available online.

The map atop the page shows the grand total spent per pupil by district. Because some districts overlap, not all districts are visible in the map. Charter schools and county districts are also not mapped. But all the districts and charter schools are in NJ Spotlight’s searchable database. It includes the totals and several other categories of data and is accessible via the search box above or by clicking here.

Note: If you are looking at districts’ ranks, a lower-spending district will have a lower number rank. The district spending the least will rank first. Higher-spending districts have higher ranks.

Here are the number of districts in each category:

  • K-6: 59
  • K-8, less than 400 students: 71
  • K-8, 401-750 students: 64
  • K-8, more than 750 students: 84
  • K-12, less than 1,800 students: 49
  • K-12, 1,800-3,500 students: 68
  • K-12, more than 3,500 students: 103
  • Regional high schools: 47
  • Special services: 8
  • Vocational: 21
  • Charters: 78