funding

The richest school districts in America

June 8, 2012 at 8:06 AM ET

 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 who 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 found within a short distance from cities that are among the richest in the country. Other than one suburb of Portland, Ore., all of the wealthiest school districts are in 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.

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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 percent and 64 percent earned $200,000. Nationally, only 5.4 percent of households earned more than that.

Median income in the poorest school districts was at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. 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 percent 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 percent above the U.S. average of $10,591. The Edgemont, N.Y., public school district 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.

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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 percent 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 percent 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 the 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.

1) Scarsdale Union Free School District, N.Y.

  •  Median household income: $238,000
  •  Percent households earning $200,000+: 64.3 percent
  •  Percent households earning less than $10,000: 0 percent
  •  Expenditure per student: $26,742
  •  Percent local funding: 89 percent

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 percent 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 percent of funding for its own schools and spends $26,742 per student. The district’s schools are also among the best in the country. Approximately 90 percent 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 percent of Scarsdale High School students had passing grades.

2) Weston School District, Conn.

  •  Median household income: $209,630
  •  Percent households earning $200,000+: 59.3 percent
  •  Percent households earning less than $10,000: 0.8 percent
  •  Expenditure per student: $20,718
  •  Percent local funding: 90 percent

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 percent 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.

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3) Riverdale School District, Ore.

  •  Median household income: $199,167
  •  Percent households earning $200,000+: 59.8 percent
  •  Percent households earning less than $10,000: 1.9 percent
  •  Expenditure per student: $16,807
  •  Percent local funding: 76 percent

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 percent of 10th-grade students met or exceeded state standards for math and more than 90 percent 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.

4) Chappaqua Central School District, N.Y.

  •  Median household income: $198,382
  •  Percent households earning $200,000+: 55.7 percent
  •  Percent households earning less than $10,000: 0.2 percent
  •  Expenditure per student: $24,705
  •  Percent local funding: 84 percent

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 percent 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 percent of adults in Chappaqua hold a bachelor’s degree, which is more than three times the national average.

5) Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, N.Y.

  •  Median household income: $183,148
  •  Percent households earning $200,000+: 55.6 percent
  •  Percent households earning less than $10,000: 3.3 percent
  •  Expenditure per student: $27,938
  •  Percent local funding: 82 percent

In the Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, 55.6 percent 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 percent of Briarcliff students recorded passing grades.

Click here to read all of 24/7 Wall St.'s richest and poorest school districts

24/7 Wall St.'s Michael B. Sauter, Ashley C. Allen, Lisa A. Nelson and Alexander E.M. Hess contributed to this report.

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