School Finance:

Trends in U.S. Education Spending

HEHS-95-235: Published: Sep 15, 1995. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the current status and trends in public education spending, focusing on: (1) the current expenditure levels for education and how they have changed over time; (2) the roles local, state, and federal governments play in financing education in the United States, and how these roles have changed over time; and (3) how the states differ in their capacity to provide resources for education and their relative tax effort.

GAO found that: (1) since 1980, total real expenditures in public elementary and secondary schools have increased, while the average national per pupil expenditure increased then stabilized after 1989; (2) total public expenditures for elementary and secondary education increased by 40 percent to $254.4 billion from the 1979-1980 school year to the 1992-1993 school year; (3) the number of poor children attending elementary and secondary schools has increased, and the cost of educating these and other at-risk children is higher than educating those not at risk; (4) the average per pupil expenditure for elementary and secondary students has leveled off after years of increase; (5) the average per pupil expenditure in school year 1992-1993 was $5,296; (6) the portion of state budgets designated for elementary and secondary education decreased between fiscal years 1987 and 1994; (7) states' ability to raise revenues for education grew more slowly than their willingness to raise revenues for overall spending; and (8) state and local governments feel more pressure to increase education spending in less wealthy school districts.