How Much Does the US Spend on Education?

How much does the US spend on education? This blog post looks at the data to find out.

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Introduction

The United States spends more on education than any other country in the world. In fact, according to recent data, the US spends about $1.3 trillion on education every year. That comes out to about $10,000 per student.

So where does all this money go? Well, a large chunk of it goes towards salaries for teachers and other school staff. In fact, salaries make up around 60% of all education spending in the US. Other significant expenses include things like building and maintaining school facilities, buying textbooks and other educational materials, and providing transportation for students.

Despite all this spending, however, the US still lags behind many other countries when it comes to educational outcomes. For example, the US ranks 27th in math and 20th in reading among developed nations. So while we are certainly spending a lot of money on education, it doesn’t seem to be translating into better results.

How Much Does the US Spend on Education?

The United States spends more on education than any other country in the world. In 2017, the US spent $1.3 trillion on education, which is more than the next 10 countries combined. This includes spending on Elementary and Secondary education, as well as Higher education. The US spends more per student than any other country in the world, and has some of the best universities in the world.

Federal Spending on Education

In 2019, the federal government spent $79.6 billion on elementary and secondary education, representing 15 percent of all federal spending on education. The majority of this spending went to grants to states and school districts, which use the funds to finance a variety of educational programs and services. The largest grant program is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which provides funding for disadvantaged students. Other major programs include special education, vocational education, and adult education.

In 2019, the federal government also spent $35.6 billion on higher education, representing 7 percent of all federal spending on education. The majority of this spending went to student financial aid programs, such as grants, loans, and work-study funds. Other major programs include research and development initiatives and Pell Grants for low-income students.

State and Local Spending on Education

In the United States, education is primarily the responsibility of state and local governments. In fiscal year 2015, state and local governments are projected to spend a combined $699 billion on elementary and secondary education, which is equivalent to $12,296 per public school student.1 State and local spending represents approximately 46 percent of the total amount spent on public elementary and secondary education in the United States.

The federal government provides funding for certain programs that benefit elementary and secondary education, such as Title I grants for low-income students and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds for students with disabilities. In fiscal year 2015, the federal government is projected to provide $68 billion in discretionary funding for elementary and secondary education, which is equivalent to $1,170 per public school student.2 Including mandatory funding, such as Pell Grants for low-income college students, the federal government is projected to provide a total of $93 billion for elementary and secondary education in fiscal year 2015.3

In order to understand how much the United States spends on public elementary and secondary education, it is important to consider both state and local spending as well as federal spending.

1 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “State expenditure data system,” Digitally linked databases (web page), accessed March 18, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_201.asp?referrer=report.
2 NCES, “Discretionary Federal Expenditures for Education,” in The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015-070), eds. Jennifer Sloan McCombs et al. (Washington, DC: GPO, 2015), table A-19B-2; http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2015070; NCES estimates include mandatory spending on Pell Grants but exclude other mandatory programs such as Head Start or IDEA funds that cannot be attributed to a specific level of schooling; Department of Education FY2015 budget request submitted to Congress on March 4, 2014; http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget15/.
3 NCES estimates include mandatory spending on Pell Grants but exclude other mandatory programs such as Head Start or IDEA funds that cannot be attributed to a specific level of schooling; Department of Education FY2015 budget request submitted to Congress on March 4, 2014; http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget15/.

How Does the US Spend on Education Compared to Other Countries?

In 2016, the US spent $634 billion dollars on education, which is more than any other country in the world. However, when you compare this number to the total GDP, the US actually spends less on education than most developed countries. In fact, the US ranks 28th in the world in terms of education spending as a percentage of GDP.

OECD Countries

Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that the United States spends more on education than any other country in the world. In 2010, total expenditure on education in the US was $1,582 billion. This is equivalent to 7.4% of the country’s GDP.

The next highest spenders are Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. These countries all spend around 6% of their GDP on education. By contrast, Mexico spends just 2.9% of its GDP on education, while Turkey and Brazil both spend 3.1%.

The OECD data also shows that the US spends more per student than any other country in the world. In 2010, expenditure per student was $15,171 in the US. This is almost double the OECD average of $7,993 per student. The next highest spenders are Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway.

It is clear that the US places a high priority on education, and this is reflected in its level of expenditure.

BRICS Countries

The five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are expected to account for 42% of the world’s population and 28% of global GDP by 2050. The US currently spends more on education than any of the other BRICS countries, with a total expenditure of $1.3 trillion in 2016. China comes in second, spending $907 billion, followed by India ($62 billion), Brazil ($49 billion), and Russia ($46 billion).

Even though the US spends more on education than any of the other BRICS countries, it lags behind some developed nations in terms of educational attainment. For instance, while the US has a high school graduation rate of 83%, this is lower than the rates for Canada (92%), Japan (93%), and South Korea (96%). The US also trails other developed nations when it comes to college completion rates, with just 43% of Americans ages 25-34 having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is below the rates for Canada (54%), Japan (56%), and South Korea (61%).

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that the US spends a significant amount on education, both in terms of absolute dollars and as a percentage of GDP. While there is room for improvement in terms of efficiency and outcomes, the level of expenditure indicates a strong commitment to ensuring that all Americans have access to quality education.

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