How much does Alaska spend on K-12 education?
By Dayna Jean DeFeo, Director, Center for Alaska Education Policy Research
Education funding in Alaska, as in most states, is one of the largest allocations in the state operating budget. In 2017, Alaska’s K-12 per-pupil spending was $17,838, which was 6th highest in the nation and 46% higher than the national average. However, many things in Alaska are expensive relative to national averages. Recently, my ISER colleagues Matt Berman, Lexi Hill, and Diane Hirshberg and I adjusted Alaska’s data from the US Census Bureau 2017 Annual Survey of School System Finances to state and national cost indices. We found that, after applying these adjustments, Alaska’s per-pupil spending is $11,997, or $204 (2%) below the national average.
Though Alaska’s per-pupil education cost is just about average after adjustments, it is still valuable to look at how our state spends education dollars. Like other states, the majority of Alaska’s K-12 spending is in instructional expenditures, but three Alaska exceptionalities set us apart from other states in our education spending patterns: small schools, high healthcare costs, and high energy costs. These high operating costs significantly affect schools, but these are largely outside the school districts’ control.
This means that when districts face budget cuts they have limited flexibility, and it is difficult for them to quickly absorb cuts without increasing class sizes and/or laying off teachers. The challenge is that even though the most budget flexibility lies in instructional expenditures, these are simultaneously the most critical components to achieving educational outcomes.
We know that Alaska will not meet its educational outcomes through increased spending alone. But in the same vein, reducing spending without a critical examination of how dollars are spent will likely harm student learning and achievement. We thus encourage education policymakers to consider the intersection between fixed and flexible costs as they weigh fiscal options.
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