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Despite COVID-19 Pandemic, School Spending in 2020 Increased in Most Categories

Stephen Wheeler

Elementary and secondary school revenues and spending increased in most areas in fiscal year (FY) 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances released today.

All but two of 36 reporting areas, spanning 35 states and the District of Columbia, had increased revenues for public school systems, according to preliminary FY 2020 finance data on elementary and secondary schools. 

All but five states reported an increase in total expenditure in FY 2020.

Because of the pandemic, the two areas that had 1-year declines (student transportation and food services) had slower growth in 10-year spending than other categories.

Increased spending in instruction and teacher salaries offset notable decreases in spending on student transportation and food services in a school fiscal year that included a global pandemic.

In 2020, as a result of COVID-19, school closures affected at least 55.1 million students in 124,000 U.S. public and private schools.

The survey also offers a window into 10-year trends, which shows steady increases in revenue and expenditures across public school systems.

Because of the pandemic, the two areas that had 1-year declines (student transportation and food services) had slower growth in 10-year spending than other categories.

Some Revenue and Spending Categories Decrease

Preliminary Annual Survey of School System Finances provides users with an early look at FY 2020 school system finance data compared to the prior year. State education agencies submit a majority of the data, which they collect from school systems in their respective states.

The U.S. Census Bureau is releasing data tables and the accompanying visualization early in an effort to provide the public with timely information about how these data may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reporting areas’ total revenue increased to $584.9 billion in FY 2020, up 2.2% from $572.5 billion in FY 2019, according to survey data.

Total expenditure by these reporting areas grew to $586.4 billion in FY 2020, an increase of 2.5% from $571.8 billion in FY 2019.

The survey also provides spending breakdowns across categories: instruction, administration, instructional staff support, pupil support and other support services for students and staff.

Current spending consists of expenses for day-to-day activities of school systems, including teachers’ salaries and benefits and most other school system daily expenses.

It is the largest category of total expenditures, accounting for 87.3% of total expenditures in FY 2020 with $512.0 billion reported by school systems — up 1.5% from $504.2 billion in FY 2019.

Despite the increase in overall current spending, two significant categories of current spending decreased from FY 2019: student transportation and food services.

Total student transportation expenditure for reporting areas decreased 5.7% to $20.1 billion in FY 2020 from $21.3 billion in FY 2019.

Only five out of 36 reporting areas — Delaware, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Washington, Wyoming — reported increases in student transportation.

Food services expenditures decreased overall for reporting areas, from $23.7 billion in FY 2019 to $15.9 billion in FY 2020, a 32.9% decrease.

Only eight out of 35 reporting states — Alaska, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming — reported an increase in food services expenditure in FY 2020.

Federal revenue for public school systems also decreased slightly from the prior year. Overall revenue from federal sources was $40.8 billion in FY 2020, a 1.0% decrease from $41.2 billion in FY 2019.

How COVID-19 Affected School Finances Over Whole Decade

The graphic below shows trends in public elementary and secondary school finance statistics over the last 10 years for the areas that reported on the preliminary FY 2020 Annual Survey of School System Finances.

While most categories of revenue and expenditure have increased steadily over the past decade, there is one notable exception — a decline in federal funding for schools. Some categories, such as transportation and food services, continued to grow over the previous 10 years but were disrupted, at least temporarily, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revenue from both state and local sources have increased each of the past 10 years, while revenue from federal sources has decreased overall from FY 2011, a year during which additional funding was provided by the federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Despite additional assistance for public elementary and secondary school systems from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), total federal revenue was only $40.8 billion in FY 2020, a decrease of 1.5% from $41.2 billion in FY 2019.

However, the full implications of the CARES Act on federal revenue for public school systems is not expected to be felt until the next full fiscal year.

Final Data Release Expected in May 2022

These data are preliminary and are subject to change by the final release of FY 2020 Annual Survey of School System Finances data tables and files.

The full release of public elementary and secondary school system finance data from the FY 2020 Annual Survey of School System Finances is expected in May 2022 and will include finance data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Due to the early release of the data, only a subset of geographic areas is included in the data tables and visualization.

State education agencies that submit the majority of the data for the survey had a soft due date of August 13, 2021 to submit data files, but also have the option of submitting later in the calendar year in order to verify the quality of their school systems’ financial data.

Only areas that submitted by August 13, 2021 were included in these preliminary data tables and visualization.

 

 

Stephen Wheeler is a supervisory survey statistician in the Census Bureau’s Economic Reimbursable Surveys Division.

 

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