Education from the Top Down

Yesterday, the US Census Bureau released its latest report on the public financing of elementary-secondary education. The data itself is also available.
On average, $8,701 of taxpayer money was spent on each student nationwide in 2005. New Mexico ranks at #35 in spending, $7,580 per K-12 student. Compared to its neighbors, New Mexico collects more revenue per student, but only Colorado spends more ($7,730 per student). Interestingly, Arizona and Utah are at the bottom of the list, spending just $6,261 and $5,257 per student. The problems with New Mexico’s public schools are not due to a lack of funding.
Where New Mexico really stands out is in the large imbalance in revenue for its public school system. Only two states (Arkansas and North Dakota) and the District of Columbia receive more federal funding per student, and we rank #10 in state funding. When it comes to local funding, however, New Mexico ranks #48, one of only 4 states where local sources provide less than $2,000 per student. Only 13.4% of public school funding in New Mexico comes from local sources, versus 43.9% average nation-wide.
What is the result of this displacement of local education funding by state and federal money? New Mexico ranks #42 in spending on classroom instruction, including teacher salaries and benefits, while landing much higher at #25 and #26 for spending on school and general administration respectively. Only 56.5% of public education spending in New Mexico goes to actual instruction, compared to 61% in the country as a whole.
When local communities, parents and property-owners, are directly funding their schools, they have a much stronger incentive to see their money spent where it counts. Clearly, this is a weakness in the financing of New Mexico’s public schools.