Education feeding at the federal trough

I was at a conference last week where a question came up about how much each state’s public education system feeds at the federal trough. Of special interest: what percentage of each state’s total education funding comes from Washington?

So, I checked what I have found to be the best available source to compare funding in different states. This is from the latest edition of the US Census Bureau’s Public Education Finances documents (online here).

Census spends a lot of time reconciling the very different accounting reports found in the 50 states’ and District of Columbia’s public school systems to develop the most “apples-to-apples” education funding information available.

Using the Elementary-Secondary Revenue information in that 2013 data report, I developed this table, ranked by each state’s federal percentage contribution to that state’s total revenue (click on table to enlarge, if needed).

Census Local - State - Federal Education Revenue by State and Percent Federal to Total 2013

As you can see, Kentucky isn’t the largest “wallower” in federal education dollars, but we do grab the cash – as a proportion of our total spending – at well above average rates. A bit over 12 percent of all of Kentucky’s education revenue in the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2013 period came from federal sources.

Of course, this federal money is far from “free.” In exchange for the dollars, Kentucky has been forced to agree to all sorts of federal demands. Some have been OK, others are terrible. But, all result in a dilution of state and local control of education without any really dramatic evidence that the feds know better than we do.

Furthermore, this is being driven by a relatively small total contribution from the federal government in comparison to a rather massive amount of state and local education dollars.

Folks in other states are starting to ask if the federal money is really worth the hassle. Even though Kentucky gets a bit more than its fair share from the feds, maybe Kentuckians also need to start asking if the real benefits from the federal cash outweigh all the costs and liabilities that this money brings to our state. Should we allow the feds so much control when they only contribute a bit more than one in ten dollars that Kentucky spends on education?

What do you think?


  1. Charlene Nelson says:

    These numbers are for the state department of ed budgets, not individual school districts, right? Because I know that federal funds comprise 12% of the budget for ND State Dept of Public Instruction in North Dakota, but for individual school districts around the state, federal funds only make up 4-6% of their district’s budget. I think that’s also significant.

    • Richard Innes says:

      Charlene Nelson — The numbers in the blog are for state-level funding at the Department of Education level.

      However, while I have not looked at North Dakota school level funding data (which has to come from your state department of education or a lower level), I have looked at funding for Kentucky’s school districts, and the proportion made up by federal dollars is generally considerably more than what you say is found in ND (Probably because Kentucky is a relatively poor state compared to ND, and a large proportion of federal money goes to support poor students). In Kentucky’s 173 school districts, the federal proportion of the total revenue in each district in 2014-15 ranged from a low of just 1.6% in the well-to-do Fort Thomas Independent School System to a very notable 32.6% in the very poor Owsley County School District. The simple average of the district federal contributions is 12.2%. The Kentucky-wide average for the state level funding is 10.7%, indicating some large districts get less than the overall simple district average. This is very different from what you say you are seeing in ND.

  2. Richard Innes says:

    Nice to see BIPPS research go national.


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