School Funding

America spends over $550 billion a year on public elementary and secondary education in the United States. On average, school districts spend $10,658 for each individual student, although per pupil expenditures vary greatly among states, school districts and individual schools. Spending also differs among school districts in the same state and among schools within the same district.

All three levels of government—federal, state, and local—contribute to education funding. States and local governments typically provide about 44 percent each of all elementary and secondary education funding. The federal government contributes about 12 percent of all direct expenditures.

The share of education funding that federal, state, and local governments provide has changed significantly over time. Historically, elementary and secondary education was funded largely by local governments and states played only a supporting role. Today, states play a large and increasing role in education funding, a trend that emerged in the 1970's when state spending first overtook education spending by local governments. Federal funding has always been minor with respect to total direct elementary and secondary education spending, though the federal government’s role in education funding has slowly increased, along with the role of the federal government in education policy.
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Federal Funding

The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs. Much of the funding is discretionary, meaning it is set annually by Congress through the appropriations process.


State Funding

States rely primarily on income and sales taxes to fund elementary and secondary education. State legislatures generally determine the level and distribution of funding, following different rules and procedures depending on the state.

Local Funding

Property taxes support most of the funding that local government provides for education. Local governments collect taxes from residential and commercial properties as a direct revenue source for the local school district.

Funding Disparities

There are large disparities in the amount of funding that schools receive which create differences in educational opportunity. The funding disparities can be broken down into three main areas: interstate disparities, intrastate disparities, and intradistrict disparities.

School Funding Litigation

Early school funding litigation efforts generally focused on education equity, which sought the same level of per-pupil funding for every student in the state.