NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

Public Charter School Expenditures by School Level

How do we achieve the best education results for the best price? This is a central question among researchers and policymakers alike. In this blog post, we share outcomes from school year 2017–18 concerning public charter school spending at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to help inform the discussion on charter school costs and benefits to the broader education system.

The first modern charter law in the United States was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Since that time, the number of charter schools has grown tremendously as an option in public elementary and secondary education. In 2017–18, the United States had 7,086 public charter schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In a decade, from 2007–08 to 2017–18, the number of public charter schools in the United States increased more than 70 percent, representing a little more than 7 percent of all public schools at the end of this time period (figure 1).


Figure 1. Number of public charter schools in the United States: School years 2007–08 through 2017–18

Line graph showing the number of public charter schools in the United States for school years 2007–08 through 2017–18

NOTE: These data include counts of operational public elementary/secondary charter schools for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), 2007–08 through 2017–18.


Nearly half (47 percent) of all public charter schools in the United States are classified as elementary schools, 11 percent are classified as middle schools, and 28 percent are classified as high schools (figure 2). The remainder (14 percent) have other grade-level configurations and do not fall into any of these categories.


Figure 2. Percentage of public charter schools in the United States, by school level: School year 2017–18

Pie chart showing percentage of public charter schools in the United States, by school level (elementary, middle, high, and other) for school year 2017–18

NOTE: These data reflect operational public elementary/secondary charter schools for the 50 states and the District of Columbia from the Common Core of Data (CCD) for 2017. School-level categories are taken from the Documentation to NCES’ Common Core of Data for school year 2017–18, whereby “Elementary” includes schools with students enrolled in grades K–4 that offer more elementary grades than middle grades; “Middle” includes schools with students enrolled in grades 5–8 that offer more middle grades than elementary or secondary grades; “High” includes schools with students enrolled in grade 12 and other secondary grades that offer more high grades than middle grades; and “Other” includes schools with both elementary and high grades or grades at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high). Excludes 2,360 schools categorized in the CCD as adult education, not applicable, not reported, prekindergarten-only, secondary, and ungraded.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


According to expenditure data captured in the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), public schools in the United States spent $330.94 billion in 2017–18, or more than $6,600 per pupil. Reports of national school expenditures based on data from the CRDC are significantly lower than those estimated using the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) from the Common Core of Data (CCD). This could be attributed to data on spending for school nutrition, operations and maintenance, and transportation being captured in the NPEFS but not collected in the CRDC. However, the CRDC data allow for comparisons of public charter and noncharter schools at the school level. In 2017–18, spending among public noncharter schools fell just under the national average of $6,500 per pupil. Like other schools in the U.S. public school system, charter schools do not charge tuition and instead receive district and state funding based on their enrollment. Public charter schools spent more than $26.83 billion in 2017–18, or just more than $8,900 per pupil, thus exceeding the national average.

The per pupil school expenditures of public charter schools across school levels1 are different from those of public noncharter schools. This analysis compares spending between public elementary, middle, and high schools in 2017–18. (Mixed-level and other schools are excluded because they have variable grade levels and other characteristics that can make expenditures incomparable across school types.) Across school levels, per pupil expenditures among public charter schools exceeded the national average, while per pupil expenditures among public noncharter schools were closer to the national average. Specifically, for public charter schools, per pupil expenditures were highest for elementary schools ($8,400), followed by high schools ($8,200) and middle schools ($8,100) (figure 3). However, for public noncharter schools, per pupil expenditures were highest for high schools ($6,600), followed by elementary schools ($6,400) and middle schools ($6,100).


Figure 3. Per pupil public school expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18  

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

 

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


The CRDC splits school expenditures into personnel or staff expenditures (e.g., salaries of teachers and of instructional, support, and administrative staff) and nonpersonnel expenditures (e.g., the cost of books, computers, instructional supplies, and professional development for teachers). (Nonpersonnel expenditures do not include those for school nutrition, operations, maintenance, or transportation to and from school.) Figures 4 and 5 show that across school levels in 2017–18, both public charter and noncharter schools tended to spend more per pupil on salaries and less per pupil on nonpersonnel expenditures. The differences between public charter and noncharter schools are particularly noticeable in comparisons of nonpersonnel expenditures, where charter schools spent considerably more per pupil than noncharter schools, most prominently at the elementary school level ($3,400 vs. $800). The figures also show that among public charter schools, middle schools had higher salary expenditures but lower nonpersonnel expenditures than did elementary or high schools. These findings demonstrate the importance of considering school level when examining public charter school spending.


Figure 4. Per pupil public school salary expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school salary expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


Figure 5. Per pupil public school nonpersonnel expenditures, by public charter school status and school level: School year 2017–18

Horizontal stacked bar chart showing per pupil public school nonpersonnel expenditures, by public charter school status and school level, for school year 2017–18

NOTE: Rounded to nearest multiple of 100. Analytical universe restricted to charter schools in both the CRDC and CCD that could be linked or matched using unique identification numbers.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), 2017–18.


Thoughts for Future Research

Since 2009, the CRDC—a mandatory data collection—has collected school expenditure data from elementary and secondary public schools and school districts. The 2017–18 findings suggest that public charter schools spent nearly 200 to 300 percent more on nonpersonnel expenditures per pupil than did public noncharter schools. However, there are concerns about districts’ ability to accurately report school expenditure data, including those for public charter schools. While the CRDC is currently the only complete national database of school-level spending, the CCD has partial school-level fiscal data for about 30 states, and NCES is making an effort to increase this voluntary reporting. Future studies could include a more targeted analysis of spending among public charter schools by geographic settings, student enrollee characteristics, school size, and school type.

Civil Rights Data Collection

Since 1968, the U.S. Department of Education has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. The CRDC collects a variety of information, including data on student enrollment and educational programs and services, most of which is disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. The CRDC informs the Office of Civil Rights’ overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. The CRDC collects data only from public schools (i.e., no data are collected from private schools). The CRDC data files can be found here: https://ocrdata.ed.gov/.

 

By Jennifer Hudson, Ph.D., and Jennifer Sable (AIR) and Christopher D. Hill, Ph.D. (NCES)


[1] For the purposes of this blog post, school-level categories are taken from the Documentation to NCES’ Common Core of Data for SY 2017–18:  “Elementary” includes schools with students enrolled in grades K through 4 that offer more elementary grades than middle grades. “Middle” includes schools with students enrolled in grades 5 through 8 that offer more middle grades than elementary or secondary grades. “High” include schools with students enrolled in grade 12 and other secondary grades that offer more high grades than middle grades.  “Other” includes schools with both elementary and high grades or grades at all three levels (elementary, middle, and high).

Education at a Glance 2021: Putting U.S. Data in a Global Context

International comparisons provide reference points for researchers and policy analysts to understand trends and patterns in national education data and are important as U.S. students compete in an increasingly global economy.

Education at a Glance, an annual publication produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), provides data on the structure, finances, and performance of education systems in 38 OECD countries, including the United States, as well as a number of OECD partner countries. The report also includes state-level information on key benchmarks to inform state and local policies on global competitiveness.

The recently released 2021 edition of the report shows that the United States is above the international average on some measures, such as participation in and funding of postsecondary education, but lags behind in others, such as participation in early childhood education programs. The report also presents some initial comparisons on countries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Postsecondary Educational Attainment

The percentage of U.S. 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree increased by 10 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, reaching 52 percent, compared with the OECD average of 45 percent (figure 1). Attainment rates varied widely across the United States in 2020, from 33 percent for those living in Nevada to 61 percent for those living in Massachusetts and 77 percent for those living in the District of Columbia.


Figure 1. Percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2020

1 Year of reference differs from 2020. Refer to the source table for more details.
SOURCE: OECD (2021), Table A1.2. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes.


In the United States in 2020, 25- to 34-year-old women were more likely than 25- to 34-year-old men to attain a postsecondary education: 57 percent of women had a postsecondary qualification, compared with 47 percent of men, a difference of 10 percentage points. Across OECD countries, the postsecondary education gap between 25- to 34-year-old men and women was wider (13 percentage points) than the gap in the United States (10 percentage points). In 2020, the postsecondary attainment rate of 25- to 34-year-old men in the United States was 8 percentage points higher than the OECD average, whereas the rate of 25- to 34-year-old women in the United States was 5 percentage points higher than the OECD average.

Postsecondary Education Spending

U.S. spending on postsecondary education is also relatively high compared with the OECD average, in both absolute and relative terms. The United States spent $34,036 per postsecondary student in 2018, the second-highest amount after Luxembourg and nearly double the OECD average ($17,065). Also, U.S. spending on postsecondary education as a percentage of GDP (2.5 percent) was substantially higher than the OECD average (1.4 percent). These total expenditures include amounts received from governments, students, and all other sources.

Early Childhood Education

The level of participation in early childhood education programs in the United States is below the OECD average and falling further behind. Between 2005 and 2019, average enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds across OECD countries increased from 77 to 87 percent. In contrast, the rate in the United States remained stable at 66 percent during this time period. Among U.S. states, the 2019 enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds ranged from less than 50 percent in Idaho and North Dakota to 70 percent or more in New York (70 percent), Vermont (76 percent), Connecticut (76 percent), New Jersey (77 percent), and the District of Columbia (88 percent).

COVID-19 Pandemic

Education at a Glance also presents a first look at countries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 impeded access to in-person education in many countries around the world in 2020 and 2021. By mid-May 2021, 37 OECD and partner countries had experienced periods of full school closure since the start of 2020.

Despite the impact of the crisis on employment, the share of NEETs (those neither in employment nor education or training) among 18- to 24-year-olds did not greatly increase in most OECD and partner countries during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis. On average, the share of 18- to 24-year-old NEETs in OECD countries rose from 14.4 percent in 2019 to 16.1 percent in 2020. However, Canada, Columbia, and the United States experienced an increase of more than 4 percentage points. In the United States, the share of 18- to 24-year-old NEETs increased from 14.6 percent in 2019 to 19.3 percent in 2020.

In 2020, many postsecondary education institutions around the world closed down to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially affecting more than 3.9 million international and foreign students studying in OECD countries. Early estimates show the percentage of international students attending postsecondary institutions in the United States declined by 16 percent between 2020 and 2021.

Browse the full report to see how the United States compares with other countries on these and other important education-related topics and learn more about how other countries’ education systems responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

By Rachel Dinkes, AIR

New Report on the Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Undergraduate Student Experiences in Spring 2020

NCES recently released a report on the experiences of undergraduate students early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The report uses early release data from the 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:20) to describe how the pandemic disrupted students’ enrollment, housing, and finances in the spring of 2020. It also discusses how institutions helped students with these issues.

NPSAS:20 student surveys started in March 2020, and items about the COVID-19 pandemic were added in April 2020 to collect information about the effects of the pandemic on students’ educational experiences between January 1 and June 30, 2020. These early release data do not include students who answered before the pandemic questions were added. The data show that 87 percent of students had their enrollment disrupted or changed during this time. Students who experienced disruptions may have withdrawn or taken a leave of absence, had an extended school break, had changes made to their study-abroad program, or had classes cancelled or moved online.

Twenty-eight percent of students had a housing disruption or change, and 40 percent had a financial disruption or change. Students who had a housing disruption had to move or had difficulty finding safe and stable housing. Students who had a financial disruption may have lost a job or income or may have had difficulty getting food; they may have also received financial help from their postsecondary institutions.

The report also provides information about the experiences of students with different characteristics. For example, students with Pell Grants had a similar rate of enrollment disruption (87 percent) as those without them (88 percent). Those with Pell Grants had a lower rate of housing disruption (23 percent) than those without them (31 percent). However, they had a higher rate of financial disruption (48 percent) than their peers without Pell Grants (34 percent).


Figure 1. Percentage of undergraduates who experienced enrollment, housing, or financial disruptions or changes at their institution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by Pell Grant recipient status: Spring 2020

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:20, preliminary data).


The final NPSAS:20 raw data will be available in late 2022. Sign up for the IES Newsflash to receive announcements about NCES data products.

 

By Tracy Hunt-White

Back to School by the Numbers: 2021–22 School Year

Across the country, students are preparing to head back to school—whether in person, online, or through some combination of the two—for the 2021–22 academic year. Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles a Back-to-School Fast Fact that provides a snapshot of schools and colleges in the United States. Here are a few “by-the-numbers” highlights from this year’s edition.

Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, projected data were not available for this year’s Fast Fact. Therefore, some of the data presented below were collected in 2020 or 2021, but most of the data were collected before the pandemic began. Data collected in 2020 or 2021 are preliminary and subject to change.

 

 

48.1 million

The number of students who attended public elementary and secondary schools in fall 2020. 

The racial and ethnic profile of public school students includes 22.0 million White students, 13.4 million Hispanic students, 7.2 million Black students, 2.6 million Asian students, 2.2 million students of Two or more races, 0.4 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 0.2 million Pacific Islander students.

Additionally, in fall 2017, about 5.7 million students attended private schools.

 

3.7 million

The number of students projected to have graduated from high school in the 2018–19 school year, including 3.3 million students from public schools and 0.4 million students from private schools.

 

43 percent

The percentage of fourth- and eighth-grade students who were enrolled in remote instruction in February 2021.

In comparison, in May 2021, 26 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students were enrolled in remote instruction.

 

2.3 million

The number of teachers in public schools in fall 2019.

Additionally, in fall 2017, there were 0.5 million teachers in private schools.

 

$13,187

The current expenditure per student in public elementary and secondary schools in the 2018–19 school year.

Total current expenditures in public elementary and secondary schools were $667 billion for the 2018–19 school year.

 

19.6 million

The number of students that attended colleges and universities in fall 2019—lower than the peak of 21.0 million in 2010.

About 5.6 million attended 2-year institutions and 14.0 million students attended 4-year institutions in fall 2019.

 

11.3 million

The number of female postsecondary students in fall 2019.

In comparison, there were 8.4 million male postsecondary students in fall 2019.

 

7.3 million

The number of postsecondary students who were enrolled in any distance education course in fall 2019.

In comparison, there were 12.3 million students who were not enrolled in distance education in fall 2019.

 

Be sure to check out the full Fast Fact to learn more about these and other back-to-school data.

The staff of NCES and of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) hopes our nation’s students, teachers, administrators, school staffs, and families have an outstanding school year!

 

By Megan Barnett and Sarah Hein, AIR

National Spending for Public Schools Increases for the Sixth Consecutive Year in School Year 2018–19

NCES just released a finance tables report, Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: FY19 (NCES 2021-302), which draws from data in the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS). The results show that spending1 on elementary and secondary education increased in school year 2018–19 (fiscal year [FY] 2019), after adjusting for inflation. This is the sixth consecutive year that year-over-year education spending increased since 2012–13. This increase follows declines in year-over-year spending for the prior 4 years (2009–10 to 2012–13).

Current expenditures per pupil2 for the day-to-day operation of public elementary and secondary schools rose to $13,187 in FY19, an increase of 2.1 percent from FY18, after adjusting for inflation (figure 1).3 Current expenditures per pupil also increased over the previous year in FY18 (by 0.9 percent), in FY17 (by 1.7 percent), in FY16 (by 2.8 percent), in FY15 (by 2.7 percent), and in FY14 (by 1.2 percent). In FY19, education spending was 11.8 percent higher than the lowest point of the Great Recession in FY13 and 6.1 percent higher than spending prior to the Great Recession in FY10.


Figure 1. National inflation-adjusted current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary school districts: FY10 through FY19

NOTE: Spending is reported in constant FY19 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," fiscal years 2010 through 2018 Final Version 2a; and fiscal year 2019, Provisional Version 1a; and Digest of Education Statistics 2019, retrieved January 8, 2021, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_106.70.asp.


Without adjusting for geographic cost differences, current expenditures per pupil ranged from $7,950 in Utah to $24,882 in New York (figure 2). In addition to New York, current expenditures per pupil were highest in the District of Columbia ($22,831), New Jersey ($21,331), Vermont ($21,217), and Connecticut ($21,140). In addition to Utah, current expenditures per pupil were lowest in Idaho ($8,043), Arizona ($8,773), Nevada ($9,126), and Oklahoma ($9,203).


Figure 2. Current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education, by state: FY19

NOTE: These data are not adjusted for geographic cost differences.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS),” FY19, Provisional Version 1a and “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education,” school year 2018–19, Provisional Version 1a.


These new NPEFS data offer researchers extensive opportunities to investigate state and national patterns of revenues and expenditures. Explore the report and learn more.


[1] Spending refers to current expenditures. Current expenditures comprise expenditures for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts for public elementary/secondary education, including expenditures for staff salaries and benefits, supplies, and purchased services. Current expenditures include instruction, instruction-related support services (e.g., social work, health, psychological services), and other elementary/secondary current expenditures but exclude expenditures on capital outlay, other programs, and interest on long-term debt.
[2] Per pupil expenditures are calculated using student membership derived from the State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education. In some states, adjustments are made to ensure consistency between membership and reported fiscal data. More information on these adjustments can be found in the data file documentation at https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/files.asp.
[3] In order to compare spending from one year to the next, expenditures are converted to constant dollars, which adjusts figures for inflation. Inflation adjustments utilize the Consumer Price Index (CPI) published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. For comparability to fiscal education data, NCES adjusts the CPI from a calendar year to a school fiscal year basis (July through June). See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 106.70, retrieved January 8, 2021, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_106.70.asp.

 

By Stephen Q. Cornman NCES; Lei Zhou, Activate Research; and Malia Howell, U.S. Census Bureau