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10 States with the Most Efficient Education Spending

By Ryan Morris
Aug. 24, 2017

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Competition is natural in the modern education system, given the way that student grading works. It’s fairly straightforward to determine how well one student is doing in school versus another — all you have to do is compare their grades, and the answer is usually clear as day.

It gets much harder to do this when we look at this from a state level. Education systems work differently between states, not to mention the vast differences that occur in things like number of students, state budgets, and cost-of-living differences. You can put one school up against another relatively simply, but when you start looking at California’s public school system versus South Dakota’s, the water starts getting pretty murky.

That being said, information is out there on things like education spending, student population sizes, and school system ratings, but this information is usually looked at in pieces rather than all at once. This got us thinking — to correct for the differences in resources from state to state, was it possible to estimate how efficiently a state spends its public education money based on its population size and the percentage of good schools it had under its belt?

We were curious — so, using data from U.S. News and the National Center for Education Statistics, we put together our list of which states spent their education money the most effectively.

The full list can be found farther down, but first, here’s a quick top ten.

  1. Florida
  2. Utah
  3. Nevada
  4. California
  5. Colorado
  6. Arizona
  7. Texas
  8. Georgia
  9. Kentucky
  10. Ohio

How We Did It

To get started, we used U.S. News’ Best High School Rankings in order to determine how well each individual state was doing academically. Specifically, we looked at each state’s overall percentage of gold and silver star quality schools, which are schools that have been proven (via AP testing scores) to adequately prepare their students for college-level learning.

Then, we took education spending data and total enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Using this data, we ranked every state based on how much money it spent per student, with the states spending the least on education given the highest ranking. That might sound like a bad thing, but stay with us for a moment here.

Averaging these two rankings together — amount spent per student versus the percentage of gold and silver star-rated schools — we were able to estimate how efficiently each state spent money on education. The assumption for this is that states who spend the least amount of money while having the highest AP scores are those who are spending their money most effectively.

We ranked every state based on this, using student population size as a tie breaker (the ties going to schools with the largest student bodies).

That’s it! Where does your state rank? Read on to the full list to find out.

1. Florida


Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 24.40%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $8,840
Florida, home of the Miami Dolphins and the one-and-only Florida Man, gets a bad rep for being more than a little strange. But as far as spending its public education money goes, it’s at the front of the pack — despite spending only $8,840 per student, almost a quarter of Florida’s public schools have gold or silver star ratings.

2. Utah


Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 15.40%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $6,440
Utah has also gotten a bad rep in the past, not for the quality of its schools but for the amount it spends on them. As this Salt Lake tribune article points out, Utah’s low level of public school funding is a long-running problem the state has been trying to correct for years. But given that they’ve taken second place on our list, they’ve clearly been putting whatever money they’ve found so far to very good use.

3. Nevada

Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 16.20%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $8,140
Nevada takes the 3rd spot on our list with 16.20% of their public schools receiving a gold or silver star. However, Nevada has also previously been taken to task over the way that their funding has been disseminated to students in poorer areas of the state. Hopefully this problem has been corrected since the time this Las Vegas Sun article was written, but either way it’s important to remember that part of the funding efficiencies for many of these states might be partly the result of disparity between richer and poorer state regions.

4. California


Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 23.60%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $9,670
California takes fourth place on our ranking, spending almost $10,000 dollars per student and having a little under a quarter of its schools on the gold or silver star list. It’s too bad, given this, that a lot of this funding might be in jeopardy from the new presidential administration.

5. Colorado

Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 14.80%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $8,910
Colorado’s doing pretty well taking the 5th spot on our list — so it’s a little surprising to see how little they’re spending on their students, given how well their economy is doing right now. According to this Colorado Public Radio article, Coloradoan lawmakers are moving forward with significant public education cuts despite Colorado’s booming economy, which seems like a strange decision.

6. Arizona


Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 11.50%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $7,390
Taking the 6th spot on our list is Arizona, home of the Grand Canyon and some of the largest Native American reservations in the country — including the largest in the country, the Navajo Nation. Arizona has over 10% of their schools at gold or silver star level despite spending only $7,390 per student.

7. Texas

Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 12.50%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $8,470
Despite a booming population, Texas is still one of the lowest spenders in education in the nation. Despite this, they’ve managed to hit the 7th spot in our list with 12.50% of their public schools achieving a gold or silver star rating.

8. Georgia


Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 14.30%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $9,130
Another state trailing behind all the rest in terms of the national spending average, Georgia nevertheless has 14.30% of its schools at the gold or silver star rating. Maybe they’re doing something right while making do with what they have.

9. Kentucky


Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 14.40%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $9,260
Making it just under the line on our top ten list is Kentucky, whose state has 14.40% of their schools at the gold and silver star levels despite spending only $9,260 per student. Kentucky was at the center of a landmark education lawsuit in the early 90s that helped even out the disparity between rich and poor districts, especially in the poverty stricken Appalachian region. Since then Kentucky’s poorest schools have improved dramatically, but the funding gap between these different parts of the state is still evident.

10. Ohio

Percentage of Gold and Silver Star Schools: 18.70%
Dollars Spent Per Student: $11,430
The last state on our list is Ohio, whose 18.70% is impressive given that the $11,430 it spends per student is still below the national average. Unfortunately, budget cuts always loom overhead — Ohio Gov. John Kasich proposed in February to cut funding from schools with more than a 5% loss in enrollment over the last 5 years, despite the fact that it’s often those schools in poorer districts that require additional funding who have difficulty keeping students around.

Wrapping Up

You’ll find our full list below, but there’s more to see here at Zippia.

Are you a recent college graduate thinking about moving states? Find out which cities in Oregon are the best for those working their first jobs.

Or are you looking for more articles like this one? Check out which states in America are the worst for jobs.

Currency for the following list is listed in thousands of dollars.

Best Bang For Your Buck Ranking State State Abr. $ Spent Per Student (2014) Total Enrollment (Fall 2014) Spending On Education (2013-14) Percent Of Schools With Gold And Silver Medals Number Of Eligible High Schools**
1 Florida FL $8.84 2,756,944 $24,363,817 24.40% 722
2 Utah UT $6.44 635,577 $4,094,074 15.40% 136
3 Nevada NV $8.14 459,189 $3,738,777 16.20% 111
4 California CA $9.67 6,312,161 $61,050,894 23.60% 2,126
5 Colorado CO $8.91 889,006 $7,924,319 14.80% 317
6 Arizona AZ $7.39 1,111,695 $8,220,539 11.50% 470
7 Texas TX $8.47 5,233,765 $44,330,579 12.50% 1,740
8 Georgia GA $9.13 1,744,437 $15,921,673 14.30% 441
9 Kentucky KY $9.26 688,640 $6,375,119 14.40% 270
10 Ohio OH $11.43 1,724,810 $19,714,149 18.70% 866
11 North Carolina NC $8.19 1,548,895 $12,685,461 9.10% 572
12 Virginia VA $10.90 1,280,381 $13,955,249 16.90% 320
13 Idaho ID $6.70 290,885 $1,949,963 6.10% 66
14 Maryland MD $14.08 874,514 $12,314,446 27.50% 204
15 Oklahoma OK $7.92 688,511 $5,451,048 5.60% 251
16 Tennessee TN $8.65 995,475 $8,606,624 7.30% 358
17 Alabama AL $9.06 744,164 $6,742,829 8.60% 360
18 Delaware DE $13.55 134,042 $1,816,383 17.60% 34
19 Indiana IN $9.41 1,046,269 $9,841,337 9.80% 410
20 Massachusetts MA $15.88 955,844 $15,183,018 21.50% 354
21 Wisconsin WI $11.38 871,432 $9,920,370 14.20% 492
22 Washington WA $10.16 1,073,638 $10,911,929 10.50% 370
23 Oregon OR $9.39 601,318 $5,647,470 7.60% 290
24 Connecticut CT $18.52 542,678 $10,050,439 23.50% 136
25 Arkansas AR $9.73 490,917 $4,778,074 9.30% 279
26 Vermont VT $18.35 87,311 $1,602,256 18.00% 61
27 Michigan MI $10.72 1,537,922 $16,493,575 10.20% 831
28 South Carolina SC $9.47 756,523 $7,163,995 7.50% 228
29 Mississippi MS $8.29 490,917 $4,071,006 2.10% 236
30 New Jersey NJ $18.37 1,400,579 $25,733,921 17.20% 412
31 Minnesota MN $11.34 857,235 $9,723,759 10.60% 517
32 New Hampshire NH $14.73 184,670 $2,720,225 14.60% 82
33 District of Columbia DC $19.86 80,958 $1,608,142 17.60% 34
34 Illinois IL $13.31 2,050,239 $27,289,963 12.40% 655
35 Montana MT $10.91 144,532 $1,576,937 9.50% 84
36 Missouri MO $9.94 917,785 $9,125,949 5.90% 410
37 Pennsylvania PA $13.92 1,743,160 $24,264,551 12.40% 675
38 New Mexico NM $9.37 340,365 $3,189,842 3.70% 191
39 Maine ME $13.38 182,470 $2,441,064 11.70% 111
40 Hawaii HI $12.70 182,384 $2,316,588 11.30% 53
41 South Dakota SD $8.89 133,040 $1,182,721 0.00% 130
42 New York NY $20.09 2,741,185 $55,080,662 16.50% 1,252
43 Rhode Island RI $15.38 141,959 $2,182,976 14% 57
44 Louisiana LA $10.77 716,800 $7,721,469 4.80% 332
45 Kansas KS $10.22 497,275 $5,083,374 4.20% 313
46 Iowa IA $10.60 505,311 $5,354,843 3.60% 338
47 West Virginia WV $11.40 280,310 $3,194,770 4.40% 114
48 North Dakota ND $11.73 106,586 $1,250,668 4.60% 109
49 Nebraska NE $11.69 312,635 $3,654,376 1.70% 238
50 Alaska AK $18.43 131,176 $2,418,000 5.40% 111
51 Wyoming WY $15.59 94,067 $1,466,579 3.20% 63

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Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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