Wyoming’s population might be small, but its education spending is mighty.
A report compiled by the website HeyTutor.com, which coordinates tutoring services, found that Wyoming ranks seventh in per-student spending in the United States. Based on U.S. Census Bureau data from fiscal year 2017, the state spent $16,537 for each student, for a total of $1.56 billion.
Wyoming’s average teacher salary in 2017 was $58,650, which is $300 below the national average, but most every other metric besides overall spending was above the mean.
HeyTutor also ranked Wyoming’s students as above average based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but it cautioned against a strict correlation between education spending and student performance.
“While teacher salaries are directly affected by school funding, the correlation between student performance and education funding is more complex,” the report says. “Looking at data from fiscal year 2017, states that spend more per student aren’t more likely to have better outcomes.”
On its face, the lack of correlation between spending and performance might seem to encourage less education funding. However, the report cites a Johns Hopkins University School of Education paper that found the relationship to be more nuanced.
As a blanket rule, scores on the national exam don’t rise as a function of increased spending. But Johns Hopkins found that higher education investment can help lower-income and lower-achieving students better their performances, and it can increase the number of days students spend at school.
A 2015 study in the Quarterly Review of Economics outlined how the effects of increased educational spending persist past graduation. A 10% yearly increase in per-pupil spending over a student’s elementary and secondary school tenure can give that child a leg up, to the tune of 0.31 more years of school completed, on average, about 7% higher wages and a 3.2-percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty.
“Effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families,” the study says.
Wyoming students, though above average, show how spending doesn’t always correlate to performance. Wyoming scores on the NAEP, which is given to a small subset of fourth and eighth graders each year, were 1 or 2 percentage points above the national average, while spending was $4,336, or 35%, above the mean.
Wyoming’s remoteness explains much of that. Rural schools have financial disadvantages that urban ones don’t. The largest school district in the country, in New York City, has about 1 million students; the entire state of Wyoming had a K-12 enrollment of 92,979 at the start of the 2017-18 year.
Urban school districts gain efficiencies in technology and transportation because their students live closer together and can better share resources. A Harvard Political Review article from this year found that California school districts spent $16.76 on instruction for every dollar spent on transportation, while West Virginia, a less populous and more rural state, spent only $11.71 on instruction per transportation dollar.
“While the problems rural schools face are connected with larger problems of economic development, there are some things that can be done to help them,” the article concludes. “These solutions will require a concerted effort to effect substantial change and to ensure that every child, urban or rural, receives an equal opportunity to succeed.”