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