The total amount spent per student on education in New Jersey rose $866 or almost 5 percent in 2012-13, according to the annual Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending released Friday.
But not all of that money ever made it to the classroom, or even to the district.
New Jersey spent an average $18,891 per student, compared with $18,025 in 2011-12 according to the guide. But that total includes not just money spent to run a school, but also funds spent on debt service for construction costs and state payments to the teachers’ pension fund.
Part of the increase can be attributed to an additional $1 billion in total state aid, but almost 80 percent of that went to make up shortfalls in the pension fund, for the state’s share of Social Security payments and school construction debt service. Only about $140 million went directly to schools, about a two percent increase in direct aid..
The actual cost of just educating a student increased about 3 percent, from $13,733 to $14,166, according to the guide data. That includes support services like the library, guidance, a school nurse and extracurricular activities, but does not include transportation or tuition paid for students who attend school outside the district.
The actual classroom cost for just the basics of a teacher, textbooks and supplies rose about 2.5 percent, from $8,202 to $8,414.
The annual guide breaks down the spending in every district in the state. Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe cq called it a valuable source of clear, useful data for taxpayers, providing a complete picture of spending in each district.
What it does not provide is an explanation of why spending varies, and for that residents must turn to their local district officials.
To a large extent, the guide has no local surprises. The shore communities of Avalon and Stone Harbor remain the two highest-spending districts in the state due to very small enrollment and a large property tax base of expensive second homes. Avalon’s total cost per student was $36,008 in 2012-13 and Stone Harbor’s was $31,979. Other shore communities, including Cape May, Beach Haven and Wildwood Crest spend more than $20,000 per student.
Charter schools remain among the lowest spenders, largely because they do not get the same level of funding as the regular public schools. Among the lowest spending per student were the Vineland Community Charter School at $9,751 and the Millville Community Charter School at $10,099.
Hammonton remains among the lowest spending districts in the state at a total $13,836 per student. School board President Joseph Giralo cq said the board is frugal and watches how money is spent. He said test scores show students are still successful.
“We are getting a lot for the money we spend,” he said, crediting the teachers with providing students with a good education. He said the district has also benefited greatly from the school choice program which brought in extra students and extra state aid, which helped control costs.
“We’ve bought equipment, but did not have to expand the staff,” he said.
The cost per student is calculated by dividing total expenses by the number of students in a district, so in very small districts the loss or gain of even a few students can drive up or down the annual cost per student.
Teacher salaries make up the largest portion of the budget, so districts that pay more also typically spend more . The average teacher salary statewide in 2012-13 was about $61,000. The average salary in a charter school was $50,500. Hammonton’s average salary was $57,855. Ocean City had among the highest average teacher salary in the state at about $89,400.
Contact Diane D'Amico: