New York state spent more money per student in its public schools than any other state in the nation in 2009, according to a Census Bureau report released Wednesday.
New York averaged $18,126 in per-pupil spending, according to the census data, far higher than the national average of $10,499 per student. A Newsday analysis of census data also showed the spending average among Long Island's 124 school districts was even higher -- $23,972.
The 2009 data is the latest available.
Some local educators say the spending averages for both Long Island and the state have resulted in education excellence, but also reflect the higher regional costs for the state and the Island. But others worry rising education costs cannot continue unchecked. One check may come from a tentative 2 percent property tax cap agreement reached by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers Tuesday.
"There's too much of a tax burden and we have been fed the myth that more money equals better education and better teaching," said Andrea Vecchio, an activist with the East Islip TaxPAC. "Not true."
Conversely, Henry L. Grishman, Jericho schools superintendent and a past president of the State Council of School Superintendents, said, "I think there is a correlation between how much money we're spending per pupil and the outstanding job our staff does and the outstanding achievements of our kids."
He pointed to Jericho student accomplishments that run the gamut from recognition in national science competitions, such as Intel and Siemens to 90 percent of Jericho students achieving a master level on state test scores, the highest state standard.
Grishman added the district was sensitive to "pressures of the economy" on taxpayers, leading to smaller spending increases in the past couple of years.
Last week Long Island voters overwhelmingly approved school district budgets with only five going down to defeat.
One explanation for the higher spending in New York and other nearby states, said Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, is the higher costs in Northeast states. And Long Island, Bixhorn added, is a high cost region within New York, where costs are 43 percent higher than the lowest cost region.
"When you adjust for those regional costs differences, the per pupil expenditure tends to be close to the state median," Bixhorn said.
He added that higher spending has meant better education in New York State and on Long Island.
Nevertheless, John Cameron, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, which has made reforms in education costs a priority, said continued increases cannot be sustained. Cameron also said because of state education aid cuts and the tentative 2 percent property tax cap agreement, he feared educational quality could diminish in poorer Long Island school districts.
"We needed to do something," Cameron said, applauding the tax cap. "Now the tough work begins: how do districts live within the tax cap and reduced state funding and still not reduce the quality of education?"
The top five states in per pupil spending and the bottom five states
The top five states, or state equivalent, with the highest per-pupil spending in public school systems in 2009.
1. NEW YORK: $18,126
2. WASHINGTON, D.C.: $16,408
3. NEW JERSEY: $16,271
4. ALASKA: $15,552
5. VERMONT: $15,175
The five states with lowest per-pupil spending
1. UTAH: $6,356
2. IDAHO: $7,092
3. ARIZONA: $7,813
4. OKLAHOMA: $7,885
5. TENNESSEE: $7,897
Long Island per-pupil spending average in 2009: $23,972
SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU