NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Which Cities Get the Most Return on their Educational Investment?

January 30, 2015

With student loans at record highs and college tuition rates rising dramatically, education spending talk has focused lately on higher education costs. But what about traditional public education? It's hardly cheap. In 2012, state and local education costs were a whopping $869.2 billion.

In a new report, Richie Bernardo of WalletHub has compiled a list of American cities with the most and least efficient spending on education -- which cities are getting the best return on their educational investment? The report compared standardized test scores for students in fourth through eighth grades with per capita spending, then adjusted for socioeconomic factors. What did it find?

  • Out of 90 cities, Miami, Florida had the highest return on investment score. While its test scores ranked 47th out of 90, its per capita education expenditures were the eighth lowest among the cities analyzed.
  • Second on the list was Grand Rapids, Michigan, whose test scores took 10th place among the 90 cities and whose education expenditures were just behind Miami's.
  • Corpus Christi, Texas, had the highest standardized test scores, but it ranked 41st for per capita student spending, putting it in eleventh place for its return on investment.
  • The city with the lowest per capita spending was San Francisco, at $980 per pupil, but its test scores ranked 71st, putting it in the 51st spot for return on investment out of the 90 cities.
  • Buffalo, New York, spent the most per pupil ($3,409). Its high spending combined with poor test scores (it placed 70th out of the 90 cities) put it in the 87th spot for return on investment.
  • In last place was Rochester, New York, with the worst standardized test scores among the 90 cities and the second-worst per capita spending (at $3,176).

Bernardo interviewed NCPA Senior Research Fellow Lloyd Bentsen on education spending in the United States. Bentsen said that pouring more money into schools is not the way to improve education quality, noting that per-pupil costs in the United States have doubled over the last five decades, yet student achievement has remained flat.

Source: Richie Bernardo, "2015's Cities with the Most & Least Efficient Spending on Education," WalletHub, January 2015. 


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