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
Statesort descending Score Grade Rank
Alabama 67.00 D+ 24
Alaska 26.75 F- 50
Arizona 68.50 D+ 22
Arkansas 63.00 D 29
California 80.00 B- 7
Colorado 68.00 D+ 23
Connecticut 48.75 F- 43
Delaware 56.50 F 34
Florida 64.00 D 27
Georgia 55.00 F 37
Hawaii 28.25 F- 49
Idaho 74.00 C 16
Illinois 71.75 C- 20
Indiana 56.75 F 33
Iowa 35.75 F- 48
Kansas 77.00 C+ 14
Kentucky 81.50 B- 6
Louisiana 77.00 C+ 14
Maine 69.75 D+ 21
Maryland 72.50 C- 19
Massachusetts 64.00 D 27
Michigan 78.50 C+ 10
Minnesota 54.75 F 38
Mississippi 54.50 F 39
Missouri 49.50 F- 42
Montana 73.50 C 17
Nebraska 82.50 B- 5
Nevada 37.00 F- 47
New Hampshire 62.50 D- 30
New Jersey 78.00 C+ 11
New Mexico 93.00 A 1
New York 79.50 C+ 8
North Carolina 56.50 F 34
North Dakota 78.00 C+ 11
Ohio 44.25 F- 45
Oklahoma 41.50 F- 46
Oregon 47.00 F- 44
Pennsylvania 79.00 C+ 9
Rhode Island 72.75 C- 18
South Carolina 52.50 F 40
South Dakota 92.50 A- 2
Tennessee 65.00 D 25
Texas 84.50 B 4
Utah 65.00 D 25
Vermont 60.50 D- 32
Virginia 61.50 D- 31
Washington 85.00 B 3
West Virginia 50.50 F 41
Wisconsin 77.50 C+ 13
Wyoming 56.50 F 34