The 10 Richest -- and Poorest -- School Districts in America
The average income of Americans differs by state, county, city and ZIP code, obviously. At each level, the amount residents earn every year impacts available government services, health and overall quality of life. This is especially true when education is examined by school district.
24/7 Wall St. analyzed Census data from 2006 through 2010 for each of the more than 10,000 unified school districts in the United States. Wealth appears to have an outsized effect on education at the local level. Residents that live in wealthy school districts have among the best schools in the nation based on graduation rates, test scores and independent ratings of academic success. Children who attend these schools are more likely to earn a college degree than the national average. To illustrate the influence wealth and poverty have on educational attainment, 24/7 Wall St. examined the wealthiest and poorest school districts in the country.
Nearly all of the wealthiest school districts are within a short distance of one of the richest cities in the country. Other than one suburb of Portland, Ore., all of the wealthiest school districts are commuter towns of New York City, located in either Fairfield County, Conn., or Westchester County, N.Y. The poorest districts are rural communities scattered all over the country, from Ohio and Kentucky to Texas and Mississippi.
Compared to the national median income, the families in the most well-off districts are incredibly wealthy. In the 10 richest school districts, median incomes ranged from $175,766 to $238,000. By comparison, the national median household income from 2006 to 2010 was $51,914. Among the 10 wealthiest districts, between 48% and 64% earned $200,000. Nationally, only 5.4% of households earned more than that.
Median income in the poorest school districts was just as extreme. Annual median incomes in those districts ranged from $16,607 to $18,980, well below $22,314, the national poverty line for a household of four. In San Perlita Independent School District in Texas, one of the poorest districts in the country, 30% of residents earned less than $10,000 each year.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, all of the wealthiest school districts spend far more per pupil than the national average. The Darien, Conn., public school district spends $15,433 per student per year, more than 50% above the U.S. average of $10,591. The Edgemont, N.Y., public school spends more than $25,000 per student annually. Barbourville, Ky., the poorest school district, spends less than one-third that amount.
Not surprisingly, the richest schools are considered better than the poorest schools, based on measures used by the media to rank academic success. All of the richest school districts were included in the 2012 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools list, except for Bronxville, which was ranked fourth in Newsweek’s Top 20 High Schools in the Northeast. U.S. News based its rankings on state test scores and college readiness, while Newsweek’s methodology included graduation rates, college acceptance and AP exams. The poorest school districts did not fare as well. Only two were included in the U.S. News rankings.
On a national level, nearly half of all property tax revenue goes to public school funding. As a result, most districts rely heavily on local funding. In the richest school districts, up to 90% of the school district budget is from residents’ taxes. Homeowners in these regions pay an average of $18,000 in Weston, Conn. to $43,000 in Bronxville, N.Y. Bronxville’s average property tax bill alone is more than twice the median household income of any of the poorest school districts on this list. By comparison, as little as 6% of school revenue is generated by local taxes in the poorest school districts, with state and federal funding making up the difference.
24/7 Wall St. used the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2006 to 2010 to measure the economic conditions of more than 10,000 unified school districts across the United States. After eliminating the districts with fewer than 10 school-aged children, those that are not unified and those that do not provide a K-12 curriculum, we identified the 10 districts with the highest median income among residents and the 10 with the lowest median income. We also considered income distribution, the percentage of children living in poverty, median home values and the percentages of adults holding high school and bachelor degrees in these school districts. From housing information site Trulia, we obtained academic test scores in all of the districts. Information on academic performance for each district also was based on the 2012 U.S. News Best High Schools, the 2012 Newsweek Top High Schools and individual district websites. 24/7 Wall St. contacted assessor’s offices to obtain average property taxes paid in these areas and relied on the National Center of Education Statistics for information on school funding.
These are the richest school districts in America.
The Richest School Districts in America
5) Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, N.Y.
> Median household income: $183,148
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 55.6%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 3.3%
> Expenditure per student: $27,938
> Pct. local funding: 82%
In the Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, 55.6% of households earn more than $200,000. The median income of the district’s residents is $183,148 — more than three times the 2010 national median of $51,914. From the large property taxes in the region as well as other forms of local funding, the district is able to generate enough revenue from residents to spend as much as $27,938 per student. Briarcliff High School students significantly outperformed statewide averages on New York State Assessment tests. For all 10 sections of the tests, almost 100% of Briarcliff students recorded passing grades.
4) Chappaqua Central School District, N.Y.
> Median household income: $198,382
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 55.7%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 0.2%
> Expenditure per student: $24,705
> Pct. local funding: 84%
The Chappaqua Central School District in Westchester, N.Y., is regularly listed as one of the best school districts in the country. Chappaqua’s only public high school, Horace Greeley, is currently ranked the 14th-best high school in New York State by U.S. News, based on state test proficiency and college-readiness. The enormous $110 million budget — more than $24,705 per student — is 84% funded by Chappaqua residents’ taxes. The median home value in Chappaqua is $929,700 and the average property taxes are $23,500, according to the New Castle assessor’s office. More than 78% of adults in Chappaqua hold a bachelor’s degree, which is more than three times the national average.
3) Riverdale School District, Ore.
> Median household income: $199,167
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 59.8%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 1.9%
> Expenditure per student: $16,807
> Pct. local funding: 76%
The only school district outside Westchester County, N.Y., or Fairfield County, Conn, among the 10 wealthiest districts is Riverdale School District, where the median household earns almost $200,000 a year. With a median home value exceeding $1 million, the district is able to collect property taxes as needed to fund its educational initiatives. Though the district spends less per student than any of its East Coast counterparts, this has not limited educational success. Roughly 80% of 10th grade students met or exceeded state standards for math and more than 90% met or exceeded standards for reading. In both cases, Riverdale High School students far exceeded state averages for the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests.
2) Weston School District, Conn.
> Median household income: $209,630
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 59.3%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 0.8%
> Expenditure per student: $20,718
> Pct. local funding: 90%
Weston School District serves 2,550 students, primarily from households that earn some of the highest incomes in the country. According to the region’s assessor’s office, median property taxes paid per household are roughly $18,000. Weston spends $20,718 per pupil each year, almost 100% more per pupil than the national average of $10,591, placing the district in the 97th percentile in national spending. U.S. News ranks Weston High School as the fourth best high school in Connecticut.
1) Scarsdale Union Free School District, N.Y.
> Median household income: $238,000
> Pct. households earning $200,000+: 64.3%
> Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 0%
> Expenditure per student: $26,742
> Pct. local funding: 89%
With a median income of $238,000, the Scarsdale Union Free School District tops 24/7 Wall St.’s list of the wealthiest school districts in the country. In the district, just 35.7% of households earn less $200,000 a year. Because Scarsdale collects an average property tax of approximately $31,000, the district is able to spend a lot on education. Scarsdale provides 89% of funding for its own schools and spends $26,742 per student. The district’s schools are also among the best in the country. About 90% of eighth-grade students at Scarsdale Middle School meet or exceed NYSA’s standards, while in each subsection of the NYSA high school tests at least 90% of Scarsdale High School students had passing grades.
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The Poorest School Districts in America
5) Santa Maria Independent School District, Tex.
>Median household income: $17,576
>Pct. households earning $200,000+: 0%
>Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 20.4%
>Expenditure per student: $10,618
>Pct. Local Funding: 6%
In Santa Maria, the city containing the school district, per capita income is an incredibly low $5,794 and median home value is just $36,100. The school district spends $10,618 per student, which is slightly more than the national average. However, only 6% of funding comes from local income sources. Santa Maria’s proficiency levels for the 2011 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam varied greatly depending on the grade, but the levels were typically below Texas averages on math and reading. Only 4.5% of the district’s adults have obtained bachelor’s degrees.
4) West Bolivar School District, Miss.
>Median household income: $17,107
>Pct. households earning $200,000+: 0.6%
>Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 17.3%
>Expenditure per student: $10,096
>Pct. local funding: 19%
Located in Rosedale, Miss., 59% of families with children under 18 in the West Bolivar School District live below the poverty line — one of the highest rates in the country. Partially due to the area’s extreme poverty, area home values are extremely low at just $48,100. As a result, the school district relies on Mississippi and the federal government to support its school budget. During the 2009-2010 school year, spending on schools exceeded money received from all taxes and other sources in the district. Eighth-grade students scored worse than state averages in all sections of the Mississippi Curriculum Test.
3) North Bolivar School District, Miss.
>Median household income: $16,968
>Pct. households earning $200,000+: 2%
>Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 15.8%
>Expenditure per student: $9,773
>Pct. local funding: 16%
The North Bolivar School District is composed of Brooks Elementary School, Shelby Middle School and Broad Street High School, where a total of 716 students are enrolled. The median income of households in Shelby, Miss., where the school district is located, is less than half of the state’s average and less than one-third of the median income of the U.S. The median home value in the district is $57,600. Also, 35.7% of households in the North Bolivar district earn less than $15,000, placing it among the poorest 1% of all school districts in the country in this category. Though the proficiency levels for the Mississippi Curriculum Test vary on each subject and grade, North Bolivar is typically on par or slightly below than the state average.
2) Monticello Independent School District, Ky.
>Median household income: $16,778
>Pct. households earning $200,000+: 0%
>Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 18%
>Expenditure per student: $9,964
>Pct. local funding: 8%
With 18% of households earning less than $10,000 annually, and not a single household earning above $200,000 per year, the Monticello Independent School District is one of the poorest school districts in the U.S. Nearly 40% of Monticello household incomes are below the poverty line, and 43.4% receive food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. In addition, median home value in Monticello is a meager $61,600, which is less than a third of the nation’s median home value. As a result, residents contribute just 8% to funding the district’s schools, or $892 per student. Only 60% of adults in the district have a high school diploma and 6.3% have a bachelor’s degree. On the Kentucky Core Content Tests, Monticello students were well below state proficiency levels on math and social studies.
1) Barbourville Independent School District, Ky.
>Median household income: $16,607
>Pct. households earning $200,000+: 0%
>Pct. households earning less than $10,000: 6.8%
>Expenditure per student: $8,178
>Pct. local funding: 16%
About one-third of households in the Barbourville Independent School District live well below the poverty line, earning less than $15,000 annually. The median home value in Barbourville is just $80,700, compared to the national average of $188,400. Poverty affects children in the district a great deal; an estimated 282 of the 680 children between 5 and 17 live in households with incomes below the poverty line. Surprisingly, U.S. News gave Barbourville’s high school a ranking on the 2012 Best High Schools list, explaining that Barbourville students received scores on their Kentucky Core Content Tests that were higher than state averages, despite the fact that 62% of the student body is “economically disadvantaged.”
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