Per-Pupil Spending: Understanding the Breakdown of Federal, State, and Local Funds

Image of money and an apple
by: SchoolDigger Staff | 4/14/2023

Introduction to Per-Pupil Spending

In the United States, education funding is a complex and multifaceted topic. One key aspect of this discussion is the calculation of per-pupil spending, which offers insight into the resources available for each student's education. This article will provide an in-depth look at the process of determining per-pupil spending, including the breakdown of federal, state, and local funds. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for anyone interested in the education sector or educational policy.

Calculating Per-Pupil Spending

Per-pupil spending represents the amount of money spent on each student's education within a given school district. To calculate this figure, the total expenditures for a district are divided by the number of students enrolled. Total expenditures include a range of expenses, such as teacher salaries, school infrastructure, instructional materials, and administrative costs.

The formula for calculating per-pupil spending is as follows:

Per-Pupil Spending = (Total Expenditures) / (Number of Students Enrolled)

It's important to note that per-pupil spending can vary greatly between school districts due to differences in funding sources, local costs, and education priorities.

Breakdown of Federal, State, and Local Funds

Education funding in the United States comes from three primary sources: federal, state, and local governments. Each source contributes a varying percentage to the overall education budget, which is then used to calculate per-pupil spending.

Federal Funds

The federal government provides financial support for education through various programs and grants. On average, federal funds account for approximately 8% of the total education budget. These funds are typically allocated to specific programs, such as Title I for low-income students, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and school nutrition programs.

State Funds

State governments contribute a significant portion of the education budget, usually accounting for around 47% of the total funding. State funds are primarily derived from income and sales taxes and are distributed to local school districts based on a variety of factors, such as enrollment numbers, property values, and the needs of specific student populations.

Local Funds

Local governments, including counties and municipalities, also play a crucial role in funding education. On average, local funds make up about 45% of the total education budget. The primary source of local funding is property taxes, which are collected by the local government and distributed to school districts within its jurisdiction. In some cases, local funds may also come from sales taxes, fees, or other sources.

It's important to recognize that the specific breakdown of federal, state, and local funds can vary significantly across different states and school districts. This variation can result in disparities in per-pupil spending and educational resources available to students.

Impact of Per-Pupil Spending on Educational Outcomes

The relationship between per-pupil spending and educational outcomes is a topic of ongoing debate. While increased funding can lead to better resources, smaller class sizes, and higher teacher salaries, it is not a guaranteed solution for improving student achievement. Research has shown that how the funds are utilized is just as crucial as the amount of money spent.

To make the most of available resources, it is essential for school districts to invest in evidence-based practices, professional development for educators, and targeted support for students in need. By understanding the calculation and distribution of per-pupil spending, stakeholders can make informed decisions about how to allocate resources and improve educational outcomes for all students.


Calculating per-pupil spending and understanding the breakdown of federal, state, and local funds is crucial for anyone interested in education policy and school funding. This knowledge can help stakeholders identify disparities in resources, advocate for equitable funding, and make data-driven decisions to enhance the quality of education for all students. While funding is not the sole determinant of student success, it plays a significant role in shaping the resources and opportunities available within the education system.