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50-State Comparison: K-12 and Special Education Funding 2021 (archive)

Across all 50 states, there are different ways in which states allocate K-12 and special education funding to districts. Education Commission of the States has collected information on states’ primary funding models, base per-student funding amounts, student attendance count methods, and funding for special education, English language learners, students from low-income backgrounds, gifted and talented, and small schools. In addition to identifying which states include mechanisms for base funding and student populations funding, this resource also provides information on how those mechanisms work. For example, how are states identifying students from low-income backgrounds and making allocations to support them?

To classify funding models and mechanisms that appear in state statute, regulations and state education agency documents, Education Commission of the States created definitions for the terms used. Those definitions are found in the K-12 funding glossary and within the relevant pages for each data point.

Click on a metric below for 50-State Comparisons showing how all states approach various aspects of K-12 and special education funding. View a specific state’s approach by going to the state profiles page.

50-State Comparisons

Click the items below to see data for all states.

Click here to see all data points for all states.

Key Takeaways

Primary Funding Model

States provide money to school districts to cover basic costs of education, such as teacher salaries and instructional materials. Yet not all states take the same approach. Some states allocate money based on student or district characteristics, others allocate funds for resources such as school positions, and others focus on the base property tax rate. There are at least 33 states and the District of Columbia that use a student-based foundation, 10 states with a resource-based allocation, 5 states with a hybrid of student-based and resource-based approaches, and 2 states with guaranteed tax base/tax-levy equalization.

Base Amount

At least 30 states provide a minimum guaranteed dollar amount, called a base amount, that is allocated through the foundation formula to each district per student.

Student Count

States also take different approaches to how they count students. This method is important because school funding is largely allocated on a per-student basis, meaning the number of students a school has is central to the resources that they will receive. There are at least 23 states that use a membership average, 11 states and the District of Columbia that use the count from a single day, 9 states that use the counts from multiple days, 6 states that use an attendance average, and 1 state that uses an enrollment count period.

Student Population Or District Funding

States also allocate funding for specific student populations to provide additional support. Education Commission of the States identified the following number of states providing increased funding for these student populations:

  • Special Education: 50 states and the District of Columbia
  • English Language Learners: 48 states and the District of Columbia
  • Students from Low-Income Backgrounds: 44 states and the District of Columbia
  • Gifted and Talented: 35 states
  • Small Size or Isolated Funding: 34 states

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Oct. 13, 2021

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