NYC's Education Budget by the Numbers
Where education is lavishly funded, student-teacher ratios are below 10, and there's a second budget no one talks about.
I haven’t done a post with much data visualization in a while, but and have been killing it with their own, so I’m getting on board.
Let’s look at New York City’s Department of Education budget and see what’s actually going on! You could get into their budget with any amount of detail you like, but I’m just going to look at some top line numbers here.
NYC’s education budget is the largest component of city spending by far. It’s over one third of the city’s expense budget. It wildly outmatches the NYPD’s budget, which is less than a third that size.
There is far more spending on top of what I mentioned above that isn’t accounted for in NYC’s expense budget.
The student-teacher ratio is 9.3 as of fiscal year 2022.
The NYC Department of Education has spent $2.11 billion in December 2023, as of this writing.
My data source
The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) keeps a large trove of datasets going back decades, and I’m using their “Education Spending Since 1990” dataset for this post, which is current up to FY2022.1 You can download the Excel file here.
When I get my numbers from a different source, I note that explicitly in a footnote.
The IBO is established in Chapter 11 of the New York City Charter.2
All dollar amounts are adjusted to 2022 unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Department of Education (DOE) expense budget funding
The expense budget covers operating expenses, like staff salaries, office supplies, and food, and is largely funded by taxes. This is unlike a capital budget, which comprises things like longer-term infrastructural projects that are funded by debt (bonds). Interest payments on capital debt are paid out of the city’s overall expense budget.
Below is NYC’s DOE expense budget over time, through FY2022. It’s broken down by fund provenance. As you can see, it grows pretty continuously. Recent contractions in city funding due to covid were offset by a large infusion of federal money.
DOE total expenditures
Beyond the DOE’s expense budget, there are “centrally allocated costs” that come from other parts of NYC’s overall expense budget, but are incurred by the DOE’s operation. For example: debt service, teacher pensions, and more. This inflates total city spending on the DOE by billions of dollars.
NYC’s current expense budget hovers around $112 billion,3 and the DOE is the single largest part of that by far. The 2023-2024 school budget is $37.5 billion (this number reflects total committed funds, as mentioned in the graph above), which makes it more than a third of the whole budget.4
For comparison, the NYPD’s budget is about $11 billion, making it less than a third of the education budget.5
Many people get the comparison between education and police funding incredibly wrong. A common misconception—fueled by general ignorance on the part of some, and opportunistic capitalization on that ignorance by others—is that the NYPD is the largest part of the city expense budget. It’s not even close, and education outmatches it by several hundred percent.
Both police and education excite the tempers of many people—but we must be grounded in real numbers to get at workable solutions.
NYC schools lost 86,599 students between 2020 and 2022, from 1,170,849 down to 1,084,250, representing a 7.3% loss over two years. But, as the charts above show, education funding still continued to increase in that time.
Larger budgets and declining enrollment make the next chart, per-pupil spending, quite predictable.
Per pupil spending
It’s gone up!
In FY2022, it reached $34,667 per pupil. This number is derived from total funds committed to the DOE in 2022 ($37.6 billion), divided by the number of students enrolled at that time (1,084,250). You might see lower numbers elsewhere, it just depends on what someone decides to count as the education budget that total enrollment is divided into.
Regardless, NYC and New York State lead the nation in spending per pupil.6 This is as expensive as it gets! Many localities and states get far more, for far less. Figuring out how to move in their direction is an open problem—maybe you could solve it!
Student to teacher ratio
DOE pedagogic staff numbers (this does not include administrative staff, and is more than just full-time teachers) have fallen a little since their peak of 121,077 in 2020.
Their relatively steady number, combined with a 7.3% decrease in student enrollment, means that NYC’s average student-to-teacher ratio has fallen below 10. Of course this is an average, so any one classroom or school will vary.
What doesn’t the IBO data include?
Capital spending. In addition to NYC’s $112 billion expense budget, it has a separate capital budget that most political news doesn’t even mention. The adopted FY2024 capital budget allocated over $3.3 billion to education,7 and “A separate Capital Budget of over $20 billion over five years is administered by the NYC School Construction Authority.”8
City University of New York (CUNY) funding.
Community and non-profit groups, depending on how they perform their work.
The moral of the story: there is much more money flowing into NYC education than the city expense budget would lead you to believe—both because there are multiple city budgets, and because centrally allocated costs like pensions are accounted for separately, although the budget document itself flags this.9
If you took a grand accounting of all the money that NYC spends per pupil, it would be much higher than discussed in this post ($34,667 as of FY2022, according to the IBO). This is higher than what most people across the nation would pay for private education. It’s certainly more than what most people would pay for college.
Going beyond the IBO’s data
You can learn more about the budget from the IBO, which publishes a great series of introductory guides:
But many other entities perform budget analyses, and sometimes their numbers look a little different (although not tremendously).
Besides the IBO, you can find budget analysis from:
The City Council—I will note, the $107 billion figure they quote can be misleading. As the Citizens Budget Commission notes: “The City’s adopted budget is $112.6 billion—the $107.1 billion reported on paper plus the $5.5 billion in fiscal year 2024 obligations prepaid in fiscal year 2023.”
The City Council awards discretionary funding to all kinds of groups, like non-profits. If you want to look these grants up, you can do that here. You can search for every discretionary check by council member, and you can look up every non-profit that gets one. There could definitely be more citizen oversight here. Let me know if you’d like to build a project on top of this data!
The Comptroller (city)
The NYC Comptroller maintains Checkbook NYC, where you can monitor real-time spending by the city. You can look up any agency, but here’s the DOE (it’s spent $2.11 billion this month so far). Also: it’s open source, so you can build things on top of it. If you’re a civic tech person who wants to bring transparency to city finance, here you go. I’d be happy to chat with anyone who wants to work on such a project.
The Comptroller (state)
I’d also recommend listening to this recent episode of the Max Politics Podcast, “Understanding The NYC Budget & Debates Over Saving, Cutting, and Spending.”
As much as you think you might understand after reading this post, this podcast will give you a good indication of whether and how to dig deeper.
Do you have any questions that have been prompted by my graphs? What other graphs would you like to see? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see if I can add what you want to the post.
If you want to learn more about NYC government and law, and how they fit into New York State and the U.S., I’ll be teaching that class (The Foundations of New York) in Spring 2024. Applications will open by early January, and you can be notified when they do.
Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 runs from July 2021 through June 2022. All years in these datasets go according to FY, not calendar year.
“Public School Spending Per Pupil Experiences Largest Year-to-Year Increase in More Than a Decade,” U.S. Census Bureau. May 2023.
See the FY2024 adopted capital budget. Go to page 6 in the PDF for a summary overview, and look for “Department of Education.”