February 21, 2024 5:39 pm
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Pandemic Aid, Inflation Drive Higher Per-Pupil Spending in NH Public Schools

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by Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin

New Hampshire’s schools are spending more per student than ever before, in part because of an increase of federal COVID-19-related funding. 

New figures released by the state’s Department of Education Friday show that the schools spent about 5.24 percent more per student in the 2021-2022 school year than in the prior school year. The 2020-2021 school year, meanwhile, saw a 9.57 percent rise in per-pupil spending compared with the year before. 

The rapid increase is partly a result of an infusion of federal pandemic aid, which is expiring in 2023 and 2024. But some of it is driven by inflation and the costs of materials and services, the department noted. School boards and administrators are bracing for the loss of federal relief funds as they craft budgets to go to voters this spring. 

In total, New Hampshire schools spent an average of $19,400 per student in the last school year, of which an average of $11,970 per student was paid for by local property taxes. In the 2019-2020 school year, by comparison, New Hampshire schools spent on average $16,824 per student.

Of that $2,576 average per-pupil increase in the past three years, about 47 percent came from payments from local taxpayers, while 36 percent came from increases in the federal government funding and 16 percent came from state funding, according to department numbers.

But the share of federal funding increased at the fastest rate, from $808 per student in the 2019-2020 academic year to $1,727 in the past school year, the department noted. 

A press release by the Department of Education noted that the end of much of that federal funding should reduce the amount the per-pupil spending rises per year. But per-pupil costs have risen at an average rate of 1.5 percent – adjusted for inflation – from 2012 to 2019, and are likely to continue to rise in coming years, the department noted.

The increase in cost per pupil comes even as many schools are losing students; New Hampshire has had a continuous decline in school enrollment since 2002. 

New Hampshire school districts spend widely different amounts on their students; Manchester, for instance, spent just under $15,000 per student last school year, while Sunapee spent almost $30,000. But nearly every school district that existed in 2000 has increased its per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 22 years, according to the department – and many have more than doubled that amount. 

One district, Waterville Valley, has stayed the same – a rare exception. The school district spent $25,517 per student in today’s dollars in 2000. Last school year, it spent $25,480. 

This story was written by Ethan DeWitt, education reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.