Few things are more complicated — or politically charged — than public school finance.
The U.S. Census Bureau this week simplified the data a bit by releasing per-pupil spending statistics for school districts across America.
It shows California spent an average $9,863 per student, about 4 percent less than the national average, during the 2007-08 school year. Among states, California ranked 22nd in student spending.
That's a significantly higher rank than California got from other organizations, such as the National Education Association. The NEA, which represents teacher unions, ranked California 41st in per-pupil expenditures for that year.
Census Bureau statisticians, however, based their per-pupil spending calculations on more than 130 data sets, including school funding figures from all local, state and federal sources.
The census figures are revealed in the just-released "Public Education Finances: 2008" report. It includes data on each of the nation's 15,569 public school districts.
The report calculated that public school systems received $582.1 billion and spent an average of $10,259 per pupil.
Some states spent far more per student, such as New York ($17,173) and New Jersey ($16,491). Others spent far less, such as Utah ($5,765) and Idaho ($6,931).
Using the Census Bureau's statistics and its per-pupil spending formula, The Bee calculated comparable spending statistics for school districts in Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin, Tuolumne, Calaveras and Mariposa counties.
Those figures show wide disparity in how much school districts spent on students during 2007-08. Example: Census per-pupil statistics show Modesto City Schools spending $9,062, Keyes spending $7,094 and La Grange spending $14,279.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.