Best Public School Systems by State
Choosing a school system for your children is an important and potentially life-altering decision. Some of the factors to consider when choosing where to send kids to school include test scores, the teacher-to-student ratio and the per-student spending. It’s also important, though, to consider safety, cultural offerings and dedication to education.
The following are the top 30 states with the best school systems for students to attend. Each state's rank is an overall placement that factors in the list of items mentioned above.
Hawaii’s school system may not be the best, but it still bests many states. One thing Hawaii has going for it is that the school system is unified throughout the entire state, meaning that every school district is operated by the same Board of Education and follows the same policies.
Michigan is a wonderful place to go to view the beautiful lake of the same name, but there are better places to send your kids to school. While Michigan has been known to spend as much as $14.5 billion on the education budget for the public school system, that doesn’t actually add up to much per student.
28. North Carolina
North Carolina's school system is average when taking all factors into consideration. The student-to-teacher ratio is one teacher to about 15 students, meaning that teachers cannot spend as much one-on-one time with the students who need extra attention. The per-student spending is approximately $8,390, which is relatively low, and the teachers' salaries are some of the lowest in the nation.
Florida's school system also has a teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to every 15 or so students and one of the highest administrator-to-student ratios at one admin to every 327 students. The per-student spending is one of the lowest in the country at $8,433, and the graduation rate falls in at 75.6%.
Idaho schools have per-student spending of less than $7,000, which is actually the second-lowest in the country. The teacher-to-student ratio is one teacher to every 20 students, which is high compared to the national average. The state did score higher than the national average on the ACT but lower on the SAT.
25. New York
New York's school system has the highest per-student spending in the nation, which averages approximately $19,818 per pupil. The teacher-to-student ratio is one teacher to every 13 students — which is pretty low, all things considered. The state's ACT and SAT scores are also at or above average.
Delaware has one teacher for every 14 students and a high per-student spending level of $13,833. It was the first state to put the Internet into every classroom in K–12 schools. The state has an 80.4% graduation rate, and Delaware students scored above the national average on the ACT but ranked pretty low in SAT scores.
23. South Dakota
Despite South Dakota holding nearly one-fifth of the country's bank assets and having lucrative employment including Citibank and Ellsworth Air Force Base, student spending is fairly low at only $8,470. Even so, South Dakota scored higher than the national average on both the SAT and ACT, and it has a graduation rate of 82.7%.
Utah schools have a very high teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher for every 23 students and the lowest per-student spending in America at just over $6,500. Nevertheless, the state's students do well in numerous areas, so funds and ratios don’t seem to affect them.
The Missouri school system does pretty well for its students, too. There’s an average of one teacher for every 14 students, which is lower than the national average and its neighboring states’ ratios. There’s approximately $9,500 in per-student spending per year, placing Missouri around the middle of the nation.
Montana has much more land than people — two-thirds of the state is farmland. That may be why it has a lower-than-average teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher for every 14 students. Per-student spending is approximately $10,600, making it mid-range in its spending. The state did attain both higher math and reading proficiency scores than the national averages.
Washington has several public arts schools, such as the Tacoma School of the Arts, the Center School and the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. Additionally, Washington offers multiple STEM schools, such as Delta High School, Tacoma Science and Math Institute, Raisbeck Aviation High School and the Tesla STEM High School.
Though still not at the top of the list, Ohio school systems have improved enough to move up 20 spots in the last eight years. The state has an average teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to every 16 students and per-student spending of $11,197.
Maine has a low ratio of one teacher to only 12 students, as well as higher-than-average per-student spending of $12,344. Maine's reading proficiency and math proficiency scores are above the national average — though not as high as in the neighboring states of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Wisconsin has approximately one teacher for every 15 students, which is the lowest among its neighboring states, and it spends an average of $11,071 per student. The percentage of students at or above proficiency in math and reading is higher than the national average and comparable to its neighbors.
Kansas schools have a below-average teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to every 12 students. Its per-student spending is also below average at less than $10,000. However, reading and math proficiency test scores here are above both the national average and most of the state’s neighbors.
Colorado runs below the national average in more than one way. There’s one teacher for every 18 students, per-student spending is less than $9,000 and the graduation rate is about 76.9%. The state does, however, have a couple of things going for it.
Great education for Iowa started back in 1910 with the introduction of secondary schools. Iowa established high schools across the whole state — something that was completely unheard of at that time. The state has the top graduation rate in the country and one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios.
Among other things, Minnesota is dedicated to teaching literary arts. In 2015, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was named the nation’s "most literate city" with St. Paul, another city in Minnesota, coming in fourth place. A 2013 study of eighth-grade students' performance in math and science showed that Minnesota ranked eighth place in the entire world.
Approximately 40% of Maryland's general fund goes to education, which is spread out to public schools and charter schools. The state is interested in taking learning outside of the schools, too, and making it widely available. There are 24 libraries that provide education to all interested Maryland residents through three systems: Self-Directed Education, Research Assistance & Instruction and Instructive & Enlightening Experiences.
Pennsylvania is home to the sixth-biggest economy in the United States — 44 of America's largest companies are here. This may be why the state ranked high in its per-student spending of $13,864. There’s also a below-average teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to 14 students.
Nebraska is another state that has a teacher-to-student ratio of only one teacher to 14 students. The per-student spending is more than $11,500, ranking the state in the top third of the nation. The percentage of students who are at or above reading and math proficiency is higher than the national average, too.
If you’re looking for a culture-rich state with high test scores, Virginia is the place. The schools consistently outperform the national average in all subjects. The Virginia Department of Education created the state’s Standards of Learning and regularly enforces them, ensuring that public schools provide a high-quality education to all students.
Illinois has an average of one teacher for every 15 students and has per-student spending of $12,288. The percentage of students who are proficient in reading and math is in line with the national average. ACT scores come out to slightly below the national average, but SAT scores here are significantly above the national average and the state's neighbors.
Indiana has a higher-than-average teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher to every 17 students, and the per-student spending of $9,566 is pretty low. However, math and reading proficiency test scores are significantly above the national average and most of the state's neighbors’ scores.
Though Connecticut’s school districts are ranked fifth overall, the state ranked third for educational performance. There’s one teacher for approximately every 13 students, and the state has the fifth-highest per-student spending at $16,631. Students' reading and math proficiency test scores are above the national average but under Massachusetts' and New Hampshire's scores.
Vermont is one of the states with the lowest populations considering its size. This likely contributes to the ability of the state to provide one teacher for every 11 students. It also has high per-student spending, ranking sixth at $16,377. The state's math and reading proficiency scores rank very high, possibly thanks to the teacher-to-student ratio.
3. New Hampshire
New Hampshire's school system ranks third overall in the country. The teacher-to-student ratio is low, at one teacher to every 13 students, and the per-student spending is over $14,000. New Hampshire's students score significantly higher than the national averages on their math, science and reading assessments.
2. New Jersey
New Jersey's school system is an excellent option for students who need more one-on-one attention in the school setting because it has a low student-to-teacher ratio at one teacher for every 12 students. It also has higher per-student spending than the national average and one of the highest-educated workforces.
In 1993, Massachusetts leaders decided to transform education, making it available to students of all financial backgrounds. They set very high standards and implemented a very strict accountability system to ensure that no child got left behind through the eighth grade.