New Jersey Spent $18,047 Per Pupil in Public Schools Last Year

April 10, 2013

New Jersey districts spent an average of $18,047 per pupil in 2011-12, up 4 percent from the year before, the state said Wednesday.

That figure comes from the third annual “Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending,” which uses a method devised by the Christie administration to give residents a full picture of the price tag for schools from pre-kindergarten through Grade 12. New Jersey spends more per student than the vast majority of states, and also racks up some of the best test scores.

This guide’s calculation includes costs that were excluded in the past when comparing districts, such as transportation, debt service, capital outlays for equipment, federal aid and employee benefits paid by the state.

Among regular Bergen districts, total per-pupil spending ranged from a high of $25,938 in the small, wealthy and high-achieving district of Alpine to $13,317 in the immigrant, blue-collar community of Fairview. The Bergen County Special Services district, which serves severely disabled children, spends $87,588.

Among Passaic County regular districts, the top spender was Passaic, one of the state’s poorest cities, at $20,374. The lowest spender of all countywide was the Classical Academy Charter of Clifton at $7,924. Charters have long expressed frustration that they don’t get facilities funding from the state.

There are many ways to tally up per-pupil spending. Critics of Christie’s calculation have complained it includes payments for long-term obligations that do not support current students. The governor has argued that money alone does not lead to better outcomes, and he wants taxpayers to see how much public money was going into schools.

Another method in the guide looks at the “budgetary cost” per pupil, which includes only expenses that are similar among districts. Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said that both methods can be helpful. “For making comparisons, removing spending factors that vary greatly is helpful,” he said. “But the public in individual communities might want to know what the bottom line is total.”