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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

$11,060 spent per student in Isles


By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

PER-PUPIL SPENDING

How much states spent per student in public schools in the 2006-07 school year:

1. New York, $15,981

2. New Jersey, $15,691

3. District of Columbia, $14,324

4. Vermont, $13,471

5. Wyoming, $13,217

14. Hawai'i, $11,060

47. Oklahoma, $7,420

48. Arizona, $7,196

49. Tennessee, $7,113

50. Idaho, $6,625

51. Utah, $5,683

National average:

$9,666

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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Hawai'i spends more per public-school pupil than 37 other states, according to a comparison of data from the 2006-07 school year released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In its "Survey of Local Government Finances School Systems," the bureau reports that Hawai'i spent $11,060 per student, with most of the money going to salaries and employee benefits.

That compares with the national average of $9,666 per student. New York state topped the list, spending $15,981 per student, while Utah spent the least: $5,683.

State Department of Education Accounting Director Ed Koyama said for several years Hawai'i had been below the national average.

"There were several factors causing the increase in expenditures. Basic inflation, things cost more over the years. Even though we have relatively the same level of enrollment, the cost of purchases and salaries have grown over the years" Koyama said.

Koyama also noted that a substantial transfer of services to DOE's budget happened back in 2001 when the public school system took on its employee benefit costs and debt servicing, which were originally handled by the state Department of Budget and Finance. Those costs account for more than $700 million per year.

That transfer of services was recently reversed in the past Legislative session.

Special education spending has also increased by about $300 million over the past 10 years.

During the mid-1990s, Hawai'i's per-pupil funding was less than the national average, according to the state Department of Education's own numbers reported to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In the 2002-03 school year, Hawai'i's per-pupil funding rose to $8,100, which was about 1 percent higher than the national average at the time. Hawai'i's per-pupil funding has been on the increase ever since.

Koyama said Hawai'i has been seeing about the same level of student achievement, relative to per-student spending, as other urban districts across the country.

"They have similar issues in terms of large urban populations, such as disadvantaged students and special needs children," he said.

The report also found that the percentage of public school system revenues from the state government was highest in Hawai'i, about 90 percent. On the Mainland, most city governments contribute to local school district budgets from its collection of property taxes. Hawai'i is unique in that it is one state-funded school district governed by a single elected school board.