How Does Per-Student Spending Vary by School District, and How Does It Change Over Time?

Examining School Expenditures in the Greater Hartford Districts

By Cam

Last updated on December 6, 2022

for Data Visualization for All
with Prof. Jack Dougherty
Trinity College, Hartford CT, USA



If we are concerned about social justice and equality, we must acknowledge the disparities in spending among the school system. Spending disparities between school districts are significant. Given a few districts' greater costs, their money is insufficient to achieve the statewide average student performance level. To ensure that every district is financially capable of attaining a specific performance target, a significant increase in education spending is necessary. Furthermore, the financial performance of a district in Connecticut's school system is evaluated by a formula known as "per pupil expenditures." Principally, per pupil expenditure (PPE) is calculated by dividing the amount of money spent on students by a district in a given year by the number of students in that district. Looking across the state, Connecticut's official source for educational data reports that Sharon Public Schools spends a whopping $45,587 per student, as opposed to Danbury Public Schools' $13,972 per pupil expenditure (“District & School Spending”). Our community partners, the Center for Leadership and Justice, have asked us how per-student spending varies by school district and how it has fluctuated over time. More specifically, they want us to research and provide insightful data visualization on a severe issue that draws more attention to the notable spending disparities among school systems in the Greater Hartford area. Further, through my data story, I will highlight expenditure differentials influencing educational inequality by evaluating each district's PPE over a four-year span.

Figure 1: Explore the Interactive chart. Mean PPE for Districts in the Greater Hartford Region.

Exposing the Significant Spending Disparity between Hartford-Area Districts

Chart 1 uncovers the large spending gap between districts in the Hartford area. The top spender, CREC, is over twice as much (52%) as the lowest spender, Odyssey Community School. (Edsight) Further, it’s evident that charter school districts, colored in red, spend the least on their students. This evidence sparked my curiosity so I began to research various methods used to calculate PPE in Greater Hartford. I discovered Connecticut utilizes five different formulas for magnet schools, two different formulas for charter schools, and additional methods for the Open Choice program, agriscience programs, and the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System. ( Only the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula and the state charter school formula consider the student learning needs while determining how much money should be allocated to a given school district. (“How Connecticut Funds Education”) Consequently, thousands of Connecticut students who attend other types of public schools are not funded by a formula that accounts for their learning needs. Instead, flat-dollar subsidies are used to pay for these students, who are predominantly students of color.

Figure 1 | Link to Interactive Chart

Greater Hartford School Districts See an 11% Increase in Per Pupil Spending

In Chart 2, almost all school districts in Greater Hartford experience an increase in their per pupil spending (PPE) across 2017-21. The Greater Harford districts experienced an 11% rise in per-pupil spending. Interestingly, Jumoke District Academy had the largest percentage change in PPE for districts in the greater Hartford over time. It's worth noting that Jumoke District Academy was discovered to be the lowest spender over time, according to Chart 1. Furthermore, of the 36 school districts looked at, only one, Achievement First Hartford Academy, decreased its PPE by -8.78% from 2017 to 2021, discounting this short-lived upward trend. Because of the significant difference between Achievement First Hartford Academy and other districts, we should be cautious about the data reported by Edsight. Moreover, it's evident that the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund was a driving factor in this positive jump of change in PPE. Congress appropriated $189 billion to the ESSER Fund in March 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. In doing so, three COVID-19 stimulus packages were utilized: (1) the CARES Act (ESSER I); (2) the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act (ESSER II); and (3) the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act (ESSER III). Connecticut has received nearly $1.7 billion of the $189 billion in ESSER funding. (“COVID-19 Relief Funding for Education”) Inevitably, this positive change in PPE is not sustainable and will certainly take a deep dive into the near future.


In creating both bar charts, I went to EdSight from the Connecticut department of education to find school funding data. I discovered "per-pupil-expenditure" (PPE) data for 2017-21, which I combined into a google spreadsheet. After sorting the PPE chronologically by year, I computed the mean and % Change of PPE. Using both metrics, I developed two distinct chart visualizations using datawrapper, which depicted the mean and percentage change in PPE in relation to the scope of towns in Greater Hartford. Both visualizations consist of three color categories, charter schools, magnet schools, and other school types, which helped to break down the different categories of districts.

Concluding Thoughts

Based on my research, charter schools spend less money on their students than other school types. Generally speaking, charter schools are high-performance specialized education schools that outperform traditional public schools due to them having more control over the kinds of students they choose to serve. My data does, however, prompt the following research question: (1) What are the underlying factors that lead Charter schools to spend less on their pupils than all other schools? (2) Given that they spend less money on their pupils, how do they outperform traditional schools in terms of academic performance? Moreover, school spending in Greater Hartford rose from 2017-21. However, the data does not account for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Notably, Congress allocated $1.7 billion to Connecticut schools in March 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Although it jumpstarted almost all district percent change in per-pupil expenditures, the abrupt positive change may be considered to be short-lived.


“District & School Spending.” School+State Finance Project, Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

“How Connecticut Funds Education.” School+State Finance Project, Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

“COVID-19 Relief Funding for Education.” School+State Finance Project, Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.