Community Blog: The EDge

Idaho’s low per-pupil spending: Is there 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 is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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