Per-pupil spending increases lag in Tennessee

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, September 1, 2022

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The Center Square

Tennessee’s per-pupil spending on K-12 public school students, amongst the lowest in the country, increased an inflation-adjusted 18% from 2002 to 2020 while its student population grew 13%, according to a new study from the Reason Foundation.

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The study looked at spending increases across the country, where spending per student increased $3,211 per student, or 25%. In Tennessee, the raw data showed that the 18% increase amounted to $1,704 in inflation-adjusted spending per student.

The raw data showed that Tennessee spent $10,971 per student in 2020 with the U.S. average at $16,062.

The per-pupil spending has been part of the discussion as Tennessee looks to increase its state education spending for the 2023-24 school year by nearly $1 billion.

The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement will create a base per-student cost of $6,860 and add weights based on a students’ learning needs, whether the student lives in a low-income household or area or if the student lives in a rural area.

Every state showed increased per-pupil spending on benefits between 2002 and 2020, with 14 states growing by 100% over that time. Tennessee’s benefit spending went up $1,992, or 57%. Only Texas, Florida, Idaho, Arkansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma saw a lower raw number per-student increase in spending over that time.

The United States average inflation-adjusted spending increase on benefits over that time was $3,406, or 79%.

“Research suggests that teacher pension costs are responsible for a substantial share of the observed growth in benefit expenditures,” the report said.

The largest increase in student spending in Tennessee went to instruction, with that instructional benefit increasing $483 per student while instructional salary spending per student went down by an average of $73 per student.

The total inflation-adjusted spending on benefits, including retirement and health care, in the state went from just over $1 billion in 2002 to $2 billion in 2020 while salary spending increased from $5.1 billion to $6 billion.

The report also showed that Tennessee schools had $4.5 billion in long-term debt in 2002 compared to $6.2 billion in 2020.