Alaska's education spending still outpaces the rest of the US by far

WASHINGTON -- Alaska pays far more to educate its children than any other state.

The latest data collected by the federal government shows uniquely high -- and unwavering -- spending on education in Alaska, including Anchorage. Elsewhere, states are cutting spending on schools.

The new data comes as the state is considering how to cut its budget and raise new funds amid sinking oil revenues and a historical aversion to taxes.

The federal government's National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and evaluates data about schools across the country, recently released the most up-to-date national education revenue and spending data, for fiscal year 2013.

Again and again, Alaska comes out on top in terms of funding elementary and secondary education.

In fiscal year 2013, Alaska spent $2.4 billion on education in 54 school districts. Most of that came from the state, which pitched in nearly five times the $324 million in available federal revenue. Average per-student funding increased by 2.5 percent over the year before -- a rate of increase matched by only two other states.

The NCES broke down the data for comparison purposes in a few ways -- and each time Alaska rose to the top.


Alaska has the highest median expenditures in the country -- $26,476 per student. The figure far outpaces those that follow -- New York, the District of Columbia and Wyoming -- none of which cracked the $20,000 mark.

The Anchorage School District, with nearly 49,000 students, is one of the top 100 school districts in the country -- 97th. But it ranked fourth in the nation for per-pupil spending. The only large school districts that spent more than Anchorage, at $15,391 per student, were Philadelphia, Boston and New York City, the last of which educates just short of one million students. Size aside, Anchorage tops costs for school districts across the western United States too.

The story of Alaska's education spending is, at its core, a story of the high cost of rural education.

Per-pupil spending in rural Alaska is far and away the highest in the nation, about $30,000 a student in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The government divides school districts for statistical purposes into designations of city, suburban, town and rural, and more specific tracts of each. The closest per-student spending to Alaska came in suburban New York, at more than $21,000 per student.

There is one exception: a single District of Columbia school run through the city's juvenile detention program that is counted as a rural school district. The residential treatment facility -- costing $47,300 per student -- is actually in Laurel, Maryland, about 20 miles outside the city. While it is statistically considered "rural," the designation is a bit of a logical stretch.

Meanwhile, the federal government considers all but seven of Alaska's 54 school districts to be rural, and nearly all of those "remote."

Most of the funding comes from the state's budget.

Federal government spending -- about $320 million -- is heavily funneled to those rural schools through a program called "Impact Aid." Impact aid funding is higher than usual in Alaska, according to the report's author, Stephen Cornman.

The program is particularly focused on school districts with children living on federal land, Native properties, military land, or some other area where local property taxes would not be an option.

Not that that's an option in most of the state: Alaska is one of only nine states that got less than 20 percent of their revenue for schools from property taxes and local governments -- funding sources that made up more than a third of revenues for schools across the country.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is Alaska Dispatch News' Washington, DC reporter, and she covers the legislation, regulation and litigation that impact the Last Frontier.  Erica came to ADN after years as a reporter covering energy at POLITICO. Before that, she covered environmental policy at a DC trade publication and worked at several New York dailies.