Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending?

Summary of Findings

Public schools are usually the most costly item in state and local budgets. Yet despite tremendous and persistent spending growth in the last half-century, the public vastly underestimates the true cost of public education.

To better understand the source of this misperception, this report examines the spending data that all 50 state education departments make available to the public on their websites. It reveals that very few state education departments provide complete and timely financial data that is understandable to the general public.

Half of all states report a “per pupil expenditures” figure that leaves out major cost items such as capital expenditures, thereby significantly understating what is actually spent. Alaska does not even report per pupil expenditure figures at all.

Eight states fail to provide any data on capital expenditures on their education department websites. Ten states lack any data on average employee salaries and 41 states fail to provide any data on average employee benefits.

When the state education departments provide incomplete or misleading data, they deprive taxpayers of the ability to make informed decisions about public school funding. At a time when state and local budgets are severely strained, it is crucial that spending decisions reflect sound and informed judgment.

The table below provides summary grades on financial transparency for state department of education websites. A description of how these grades were derived is presented in the Grading Criteria section, and detailed ratings appear on the individual pages for each state.

Grade Colors

  • A+
  • A
  • A-
  • B+
  • B
  • B-
  • C+
  • C
  • C-
  • D+
  • D
  • D-
  • F
  • F-
  • No Grade
State Scores
State Scoresort ascending Grade Rank
New Mexico 93.00 A 1
South Dakota 92.50 A- 2
Washington 85.00 B 3
Texas 84.50 B 4
Nebraska 82.50 B- 5
Kentucky 81.50 B- 6
California 80.00 B- 7
New York 79.50 C+ 8
Pennsylvania 79.00 C+ 9
Michigan 78.50 C+ 10
New Jersey 78.00 C+ 11
North Dakota 78.00 C+ 11
Wisconsin 77.50 C+ 13
Kansas 77.00 C+ 14
Louisiana 77.00 C+ 14
Idaho 74.00 C 16
Montana 73.50 C 17
Rhode Island 72.75 C- 18
Maryland 72.50 C- 19
Illinois 71.75 C- 20
Maine 69.75 D+ 21
Arizona 68.50 D+ 22
Colorado 68.00 D+ 23
Alabama 67.00 D+ 24
Utah 65.00 D 25
Tennessee 65.00 D 25
Massachusetts 64.00 D 27
Florida 64.00 D 27
Arkansas 63.00 D 29
New Hampshire 62.50 D- 30
Virginia 61.50 D- 31
Vermont 60.50 D- 32
Indiana 56.75 F 33
North Carolina 56.50 F 34
Wyoming 56.50 F 34
Delaware 56.50 F 34
Georgia 55.00 F 37
Minnesota 54.75 F 38
Mississippi 54.50 F 39
South Carolina 52.50 F 40
West Virginia 50.50 F 41
Missouri 49.50 F- 42
Connecticut 48.75 F- 43
Oregon 47.00 F- 44
Ohio 44.25 F- 45
Oklahoma 41.50 F- 46
Nevada 37.00 F- 47
Iowa 35.75 F- 48
Hawaii 28.25 F- 49
Alaska 26.75 F- 50