As NH public school district enrollment fell by 30,000 students in 19 years, spending rose by nearly $1 billion


From 2001-2019, New Hampshire public school districts lost 29,946 students, but increased spending by an inflation-adjusted $937 million, a new Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy study has found.

In percentage terms, inflation-adjusted spending rose by 40% while enrollment fell by 14%.

The increase in spending is even more dramatic when capital and debt spending are removed. Current spending (operational spending that excludes capital projects and debt service) increased by 74% from 2001-2019.

On a per-pupil basis, New Hampshire public school spending increased by 66.8%, adjusted for inflation. In nominal dollars, New Hampshire spent $8,245 per student in 2001. That figure reached $18,905 in 2019, representing a 129% increase before accounting for cost of living increases. Adjusting for inflation, the increase was a stunning 66.8%.

The increase was so large that New Hampshire went from being 4% below the national average in per-pupil expenditures in 2001 to 25.7% above the national average in 2019.

A large portion of this increased spending went to hire new staff. While the number of students in New Hampshire district public schools fell by 14%, staffing increased by 15%. (Teacher pay rose by 12%, indicating that the emphasis was on hiring, not raising pay.)

Parents might assume that nearly $1 billion in additional spending above the rate of inflation bought improvements in performance on national metrics. That did not happen. As current spending rose by 74% and staffing levels rose by 15%, New Hampshire’s National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading and Math scores fell by 4 points. Nationally, scores rose by 15 points, which means that New Hampshire fell behind relative to other states despite a massive increase in spending.

The big picture is that during the first two decades of this century New Hampshire spent 40% more to educate 14% fewer students, and those students wound up doing slightly worse in reading and math.  

The massive increase in resources devoted to K-12 public schools was not repeated in other areas of state and local government. From 2001-2019, employment in New Hampshire public schools increased by 3,359 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) employees.  Employment in public colleges and universities increased by 478 FTE employees. All other state and local government added just 332 FTE employees. 

While total spending on district public schools rose by 40% from 2001-2019, the percentages varied by level of government—local, state, and federal.  And inflation was an important factor. 

Total state taxpayer funding to district public schools increased in nominal dollars from about $878 million in 2001 to approximately $1 billion in 2019. However, much of that increase was consumed by inflation. When adjusted for inflation, total state appropriations to district public schools shrank from an inflation-adjusted $1.2 billion in 2001 to $1 billion in 2019—a decline of 17 percent. Most of this decline, 83.9%, is due to declining student enrollments. The remaining 16.1 percent was due to actual increases in state appropriations coming close to, but not quite keeping up with, inflation.

Total local appropriations, adjusted for inflation, doubled, going from $1.09 billion in 2001 to $2.19 billion in 2019. That’s a 101% increase in spending as the number of students served fell by 14%.

Local and federal spending increases per pupil were also large, even when adjusted for inflation. Inflation-adjusted federal spending per student increased by 84%, going from $500 in 2001 to $920 in 2019, and local spending per student increased by 135%, going from $5,223 in 2001 to $12,279 in 2019.

State spending per student, however, was fairly flat during this period, when adjusted for inflation. Inflation-adjusted state spending per student was 3 percent lower in 2019 relative to 2001, a decline from $5,791 to $5,604 by 2019.

The full report, executive summary, and tables can be downloaded below. The tables contain detailed spending numbers for individual school districts. 

Executive Summary: 01-19EdFundingReportExecSummary

Full Report: EducationSpending01-19Report

Appendix Tables: Ed Spending Report District Tables