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Census Data Suggests Mass. Punching Below Its Weight On Education Spending

BOSTON — New census data suggest Massachusetts is punching below its weight when it comes to education spending.

The data, from fiscal year 2011, show the Bay State ranks seventh in the country when it comes to spending per pupil — $13,941.

But when states’ wealth — their capacity to fund education — is factored in, Massachusetts’ standing tumbles.

When it comes to spending on public education per $1,000 of personal income, a standard measure of wealth, Massachusetts ranks 32nd — below all five of its New England neighbors.

(Source: US Census)

(Source: US Census)

For some education advocates, the state’s relative parsimony is an argument for greater investment in high-poverty pockets where students are struggling most.

But with Massachusetts ranked first in the nation in overall student achievement, there’s a case to be made that the state is making efficient use of its resources and should spend no more.

And amid a fragile recovery, there is little appetite for higher taxes — as evidenced by Gov. Deval Patrick’s failure to wrest a significant new investment in early education from state lawmakers this year.

Local Funding

Indeed, if Massachusetts taxpayers are punching below their weight, they may not feel that way.

The census data show that some 82 percent of Massachusetts’ education revenue came from state and local sources in fiscal year 2011.

Just 7.8 percent came from federal sources — ranking Massachusetts 47th in the nation, tied with Minnesota.

The federal government’s relatively small contribution owes much to the Bay State’s wealth — a good deal of the education money out of Washington is targeted at low-income students.

But in an analysis of the 2010 census data, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center identified another, short-term factor that helps explain the state’s low rank: Massachusetts front-loaded its spending of federal education stimulus dollars, pouring more into its schools in 2009 than most states and leaving little left over for 2010 and 2011.

Boston Ranks No. 2 In The Nation In Per-Pupil Spending 

The census data compare not just state spending, but outlays in the nation’s 100 largest school districts.

And Boston, it turns out, ranks second only to New York City in per-pupil spending, with both cities far ahead of any other.

  1. New York City — $19,770
  2. Boston — $19,181
  3. Baltimore — $15,483
  4. Montgomery County, MD — $15,421
  5. Howard County, MD — $15,139

Boston’s big outlays are, in part, a function of the state’s wealth. But they also speak to the city’s affluence.

For all its big-city poverty, Boston has an enormously valuable housing stock — ensuring robust property tax revenue.

That means a limited state contribution to the Boston Public Schools, under the Massachusetts funding formula.

Combine the relatively small state outlay with City Hall’s generous education spending and you get a major American city as reliant on local property taxes as many affluent suburbs.

Consider this breakdown from the 2010 census data:

(Source: US Census)

(Source: US Census)

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