Per-pupil spending: a family factor?

Once again, the U.S. Census Bureau has ranked Idaho next to last in per-pupil spending.

Tom Luna
State superintendent Tom Luna

And reacting to this familiar news, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna made a familiar argument to explain the numbers.

One factor working against Idaho is family size, Luna said Tuesday. Because Idaho’s families are larger, school children make up a higher percentage of the population. So, relatively speaking, Idaho taxpayers have to shoulder a heavier burden to bankroll education.

Luna has made this point before. But does it hold up?

To an extent, it does.

The latest Census Bureau report contains a wealth of data, including a breakdown of state populations and school enrollments.

In 2011, elementary and secondary school students made up 16.8 percent of Idaho’s population, above the national average of 15.5 percent.

The family-size argument is even stronger when it comes to Utah — the one and only state Idaho consistently outspends. School children made up 19.4 percent of Utah’s population.

Looking at the top and bottom five in per-pupil spending, though, the percentages are definitely a mixed bag.

Top five:

  • New York. Population: 19,502,000. Enrollment: 2,677,412. Student percentage: 13.7.
  • District of Columbia. Population: 619,000. Enrollment: 44,199. Student percentage: 7.1.
  • Alaska. Population: 724,000. Enrollment: 131,704. Student percentage: 18.1.
  • New Jersey. Population: 8,835,000. Enrollment: 1,399,409. Student percentage: 15.8 percent.
  • Vermont. Population: 627,000. Enrollment: 86,982. Student percentage: 13.9.

Bottom five:

  • Mississippi. Population: 2,977,000. Enrollment: 490,526. Student percentage: 16.5.
  • Arizona. Population: 6,467,000. Enrollment: 946,571. Student percentage: 14.6.
  • Oklahoma. Population: 3,784,000. Enrollment: 658,163. Student percentage: 17.4.
  • Idaho. Population: 1,584,000. Enrollment: 265,713. Student percentage: 16.8.
  • Utah. Population: 2,814,000. Enrollment: 545,395. Student percentage: 19.4.
Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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