A new U.S. Census Bureau study ranks Connecticut seventh in the country in education spending, a phenomenon experts attribute to the region's high cost of living, the state's wealth, a relatively low student-to-teacher ratio and the premium the state places on education.
The census figures show that Connecticut spent $14,531 per pupil on public school spending in 2008-09, the most recent figures available. New York spent the most at $18,126 per student, while Utah spent the least at $6,356.
Experts said Connecticut typically spends more because of the higher cost of living in the Northeast. Simply put: You need to pay teachers more to attract them to a more expensive state. Not surprisingly, the study found that Connecticut ranks fifth in the nation for spending on teacher salaries and fourth on teacher benefits. It also ranked fifth for salaries for school principals and administrators.
The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said that despite the ranking, teacher salaries have dropped in the past six years. They were ranked first in the country in 2003-04 with teachers earning an average $57,337 a year, but dropped to sixth place in 2009-10 at $64,350. Those estimates were gleaned from surveys taken by the union's parent group, the National Education Association.
The census study also looked at where the money comes from in terms of local, state or federal sources. Not surprising to most Connecticut taxpayers, it found that local communities chip in the most, paying an average of $10,042 per pupil, third-highest in the country.
Connecticut ranks 14th in terms of state funding at $6,594 per pupil, and 49th in terms of federal funding at $737 per pupil.
(The per-pupil spending figure is smaller than the total of the revenue from local, state and federal sources, because it does not include some categories of spending, such as adult education and payments to other school systems.)
Another reason Connecticut's education spending is among the highest is the state's relatively low student-to-teacher ratio, some experts said. Connecticut has 11.7 students for every teacher compared to a national average of 15.3 students per teacher, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
"In Connecticut and a lot of other states, class sizes have crept downward over the last several decades," said Don Boyd, senior fellow at Rockefeller Institute of Government in New York.
But he noted that the trend is reversing. Classes are gradually getting bigger and could return to the size they were a decade ago, Boyd said. Connecticut has already lost 2,700 teaching positions in the past two years and more cuts are expected this year, said Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
Connecticut's relatively high spending levels also could be due to the state's generous school construction program and its progressive, state-run technical high school system, said Brian Mahoney, the state Department of Education's chief financial officer.
Connecticut also has the ability to pay more because it has the highest per-capita income in the country, at $56,001 as of last year. When it comes to spending compared to personal income, Connecticut ranks 28th in the country, the study found.
"We certainly have the ability to be seventh in the country," Cirasuolo said. "In fact we have the ability to be higher."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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