This article was written by Stephen Wheeler. It was originally published in the Census blog, Random Samplings, on June 14, 2017.
With large portions of public tax dollars being spent on our nation’s schools, one question often asked by researchers, lawmakers and parents is: “How much of the money spent on schools makes it into the classroom?” According to the Public Education Finances: 2015 report recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, public elementary-secondary (pre-K and K-12) school systems in the 50 states and the District of Columbia received $642.6 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2015. In the same time frame, these school systems spent $639.5 billion.
So how much money was spent on classroom instruction, and how much was spent on other supporting activities?
In fiscal year 2015, school systems spent 53.8 percent of total expenditures, $344.3 billion, on instructional activities. Instructional activities are defined as activities dealing with the interaction between teachers and students in the classroom or other learning situations. Of this $344.3 billion, $216.9 billion, or 63.0 percent, was spent on salaries paid to teachers, instructional aides, substitute teachers and other instructional staff. Additionally, $87.1 billion (25.3 percent) was spent on employee benefits, while the remaining $40.2 billion (11.7 percent) was spent on instructional supplies, purchased services and other miscellaneous instructional expenditures.
Public Elementary-Secondary School System Expenditures by Type of Expenditure: Fiscal Year 2015
After accounting for $344.3 billion in spending on instructional activities, $295.2 billion (46.2 percent of total spending) remained for other school system activities. School systems spent $194.4 billion (30.4 percent of total spending) on support services for instruction, which included student support services, instructional staff support services, school and school district administration, operation and maintenance of plant, student transportation, and other support services for instructional activities. School systems also spent $29.0 billion (4.5 percent of total spending) on other non-instructional support services such as food services, community services, and adult education.
Other expenditures by school systems included $52.1 billion in capital outlays, which included the construction of new school buildings, purchases of land and existing buildings and equipment expenditures. Of this $52.1 billion, $2.2 billion was spent on equipment related to classroom instruction. In addition to capital outlays, $19.6 billion was spent on other miscellaneous expenditures, including interest payments on debt and payments made to other government entities in fiscal year 2015.