When it comes to per pupil school spending, New Jersey is at the head of the class.
The Garden State spent $10,283 per student in 2000, outdoing second-ranked New York by $244, according to a Census Bureau report on public education released May 23.
Both New Jersey and New York were well above the national median of $6,835. The median increased $377, or 5.8 percent, over 1999.
The Census figures are important because they fuel the debate over whether student achievement and school spending are linked.
"What we've seen is that even though spending has increased, certainly the performance of American students has not matched that," said Richard Sousa, associate director of the right-leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a public policy research center.
"I can demonstrate the exact opposite," said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, an organization of 2.7 million educators that maintains school funding affects academic performance.
How much a state spends per student can vary widely state-to-state because of geographic differences in wages, costs, and legislative priorities. For example, hiring the same teacher in Alabama is cheaper than in New York. School resources and property cost more in some states than others. Political pressures or court orders, such as the push to equalize school expenditures across counties, often lead legislatures to increase per student funding statewide.
Besides New Jersey and New York, other big spenders per student were Massachusetts, $8,444; Alaska, $8,743; and Connecticut, $8,800.
Utah spent the least per student, $4,331, followed by Mississippi, $5,014; Arizona, $5,033; Idaho, $5,218, and Tennessee, $5,343.
Some studies, such as a 2001 report (http://www.alec.org/meSWFiles/pdf/education2000.pdf) by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington-based policy group that advocates less government, have found no correlation between spending and achievement.
The ALEC report showed that Maryland spent $3,252 more per student than Utah in 1999, but both states reported the same reading test scores for eighth graders.
Spending per student has increased nearly twenty-fold since 1920, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The causes of increased spending have been smaller pupil-teacher ratios, rising teacher salaries, and increasing non-instructional expenses, Sousa said.
The Census' annual report shows how much state, local and federal funds were spent on school operations and construction. The report uses financial data on public elementary and secondary school systems with enrollments of 15,000 or more.
The report showed that state governments provide the most school funding, $186 billion annually, compared to $161 billion from local governments and $27 billion from the federal government.