Tennessee governments spend an average of $9,619 per public-school student

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State and local governments in Tennessee spend on average a little more than $9,600 for each student in public school, according to a report by the Tennessee comptroller’s office, but per-pupil spending varies widely based on the type of school district and the population it serves.

School-level data reporting on per-student spending is available to the public this week for the first time. An interactive map and dashboard displays data from across the state. The comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability created the resources in response to a federal law that requires states to report school-level data on per-student spending.

Data in the dashboard and interactive map cannot compare how districts spend in relationship with each other. This is intentional, according to the comptroller’s report, because Tennessee’s school districts vary greatly in size and student demographics.

For example, while Tennessee’s largest school district, Shelby County Public Schools, has 202 schools serving more than 100,000 students, there are seven districts in the state that have only one school.

Districts’ per-student spending varies not only on how many students are enrolled but also in the resources they have available.

“The revenue sources available to school districts and the way they distribute funds to schools can also vary – urban school districts can raise more local revenue for education than smaller rural districts,” the report reads. “The total amount of funds spent at an urban school with a large population of poor students is not an even comparison to a small rural school with a less diverse student population.”

The comptroller’s online tools report average spending amounts from the 2018-19 school year from both state and district level sources. No private money is included in the data.

Tennessee’s six largest school districts spend on average between $9,000 and $12,750 per student. Shelby County spends on average nearly $11,800 per student.

Franklin Special School District reported the highest per-pupil spending, averaging $15,557 per student.

Within a district, per-pupil spending by school varies tremendously based on the type of population each school serves.

For example, the six schools in Metro Nashville with the highest per-student spending all serve special populations of students. While the schools spend less than the average school in the district, they serve fewer students, ratcheting up the per-pupil cost.

While Metro Nashville schools spend on average just over $12,750 per pupil per year, these six range between $34,000 to nearly $70,000 per pupil.

Averages vary based on the school district’s type. Countywide districts typically serve far more schools with much higher enrollment but spend less per student. County districts spend an average of nearly $9,500 per student and average 16 schools with enrollments of nearly 9,000.

On the other hand, municipal school districts spend more per student with lower enrollment numbers and significantly fewer schools. On average, municipal school districts include five schools, with enrollment of just over 3,000. Per-pupil spending averages about $10,000.

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