First Approximation: Spending Per Student

Anyone who has lived in different places in the United States has no doubt noticed that spending on schools varies widely from place to place.

When I moved to San Mateo County three years ago I paid attention to this issue as it was a factor in choosing where to live–and what houses we could afford.

The following chart shows how we in the Cabrillo Unified School District rank in terms of spending per student compared to our peers in the rest of San Mateo County. I didn’t show it here but I did compile the data for the past five years to see if Cabrillo’s ranking had changed over time–it has remained in essentially the same place over that time period.

O.K., so we are at the bottom of the chart compared to other county districts. Fair enough. But we are still well off compared to schools in other states, right? This is California, after all, one of the nation’s wealthiest states, so well off we could, if we wanted to, form our own, separate country…

As the chart shows, California is well below average in per student spending (but, heck, we beat Louisiana–that’s something, isn’t it?). These are based upon 2004 numbers.

Now here comes the really sad, depressing part. The more mathematically inclined of you might think, “Gee, I wonder how the ranking would change if we adjusted for cost-of-living?” That is to say, in some places in the country things cost less than in other places (obviously, right?). So a dollar spent on education in the Bay Area might not actually “buy” as much education, so to speak, as a dollar spent in Ohio, where things (most everything!) are cheaper.

You know how this is going to turn out even without peeking at the next chart. Just look at the states in the chart above to see who ranks below California. Louisiana, Texas, Iowa…Every one of those states is significantly (dare I say dramatically) cheaper to live in. Those states will move up on the list when you adjust for their dollar’s buying power. States with a high cost-of-living (like you-know-who) will drop on the list to account for the weak comparative value of a dollar spent in that state.

Here’s the obvious result:


Data provided by Education Data Partnership. Cost of living indices provided by Money Magazine. The crude methodology is my own invention.

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