Billions for K-12 education: Where does the money go?

Administrative costs in Utah’s K-12 public schools are among the lowest in the nation, Utah received the lowest amount of federal funding of any state, and spending varies widely among Utah’s school districts.

These are a few of the findings from Utah Foundation’s new report, Simple Arithmetic? K-12 Education Spending in Utah. The report makes national and statewide comparisons and explores some of the reasons for spending patterns.

Its key findings include:

  • K-12 education costs Utah taxpayers about $5 billion per year for operating costs, with another half billion in federal funds and a half-billion in local sources to support capital costs.
  • Kindergarten through 12th grade education accounts for 23% of the state budget.
  • While Utah is second lowest in total school funding per pupil, it is last in funding from the federal government – due in part to both Utah’s low percentage of lower-income students and Utah’s modest state and local funding, which in turn affect federal funding formulas.
  • Utah’s funding “effort” (amount per $1,000 of personal income) at the state level exceeds the national average while its local-level funding effort trails behind.
  • There are vast differences among districts’ state, local and federal revenue – due in large part to district size, location and proportion of lower-income students.
  • Utah has the second largest class size in the nation, which is likely a key factor in keeping K-12 educational costs low.
  • In terms of “effort,” Utah spends more than most states on teacher benefits.
  • Despite the perceptions of many Utahns that large portions of education spending go toward administrative costs, only 7% is spent on administration – the 13th lowest percentage in the nation and the second-lowest amount per pupil in the nation.
  • Although charter schools spend a much smaller percentage per-pupil on instructional employee benefits than district schools, charter schools spend a significantly higher percentage on support services and administration.
  • Due in large part to district size, spending on district administration ranges from $254 per pupil to $1,947.
  • Due in large part to logistical differences, spending on transportation among districts ranges from $277 per pupil to $1,500. Charter schools, meanwhile, spend far less than district schools.


“There are major efforts afoot to increase revenue and spending for K-12 education,” said Utah Foundation Vice-President Shawn Teigen, the report’s lead author. “In order to make informed decisions, the public and policymakers needs a strong sense of where the money is going now. That is what this report is all about.”

The report Simple Arithmetic? K-12 Education Spending in Utah is available on the Utah Foundation website