Zoom in and move the map or use the search box to find a school district. Click on a district to find spending data. Only elementary and K-12 districts are shown. Data for all districts, including regional high schools, vocationals, special services and charters, are in the searchable database.
The typical New Jersey school district spent close to $16,000 to educate each public school student in the 2017-2018 school year, but that’s just on teachers’ salaries, classroom supplies, administrative costs and other expenses common to all districts.
Counting all spending — including busing, tuition for special education students sent out of district, facilities, equipment, and pension and benefits payments made by the state — the average cost jumped almost 40 percent, from $15,809 to $21,866. The state Department of Education released the data last week in its latest Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Spending.
The DOE publishes the guide every year to let people see how public schools are spending money and to enable them to compare spending among districts of a similar type and size. Lamont Repollet, the state’s education commissioner, said the guide can serve “as a springboard for discussion between local residents and school officials on local budget decisions.”
For the 2018-2019 school year, the average comparative amount budgeted per pupil for the most common types of spending was $16,599, almost 9 percent higher than just two years earlier. The 2018-2019 data is based on amounts included in district budgets and not yet audited, while prior years’ figures are actual expenditures.
There are wide variations in the amounts that districts spend, though. The comparable budgetary totals for traditional public schools ranged from a low of $10,075 per pupil in Fairview in Bergen County to $35,051 in North Wildwood in Cape May County.
There were a few districts that spent far more and some that spent a little less. Spending the least, at $8,965 per pupil, was the Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City, which enrolled 628 students in grades K-8. Eight of the 10 lowest spenders were charter schools. Charter schools receive tax dollars to operate but have greater operational latitude and are free from some of the regulations covering other public schools.
Seven of the 10 biggest spenders were special service districts, which provide special education to students with disabilities, often in small classes with low student-staff ratios. The Bergen County Special Services District spent $94,548 per pupil in comparative expenditure last year, according to the guide. Five other special services districts also spent more than $50,000 per student, the data shows.
The guide also breaks down spending by category: classroom instruction, salaries and benefits, administration, support services and legal expenses, to name a few. As might be expected, classroom instruction costs make up the largest proportion of a district’s spending — close to 59 percent on average in the state last year, or $9,724. But that still means that 41 cents of every $1 spent on schools did not go into the classroom.
Administrative costs: 11 percent
About 11 percent of school spending covered administrative costs, including the salaries of superintendents, principals and other administrators. The proportion of budgetary spending on administration has remained relatively constant, even as the per pupil amount has risen — by almost 6 percent from 2016-2017 to $1,774 on average in the state last year.
The operation and maintenance of school facilities is another major part of the budget, with 12 cents of every dollar spent last year, or $1,985 per pupil, spent on building upkeep, security and the salaries of those who do that work.
Using the guide, the public can compare the spending of school districts of similar size and grade configuration, as well as student-teacher and faculty-administrator ratios, median salaries and budgetary surpluses.