For the first time, parents can look up how much each of Missouri’s public schools is spending on its students.

The data, released Thursday by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, shows per-student costs school building by school building. Previously, per-student spending data was only available at the district level. The change is part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The data shows a wide range in spending levels across Columbia Public Schools. Among the 32 schools operated by the local school district, per-pupil expenses range from $6,500 to $14,300.

That excludes Columbia Public Schools’ Center for Gifted Education. The district cautions that the state formula didn’t account for the part-time students of the program, inflating the spending per pupil to $122,000. The data also doesn’t account for the district’s administration cost of $2,931, shared equally by all students.

The site-based data provides “a meaningful way” for district officials to look at how they spend money in schools and ensure equitable opportunity for every student, DESE spokesperson Mallory McGowin said.

In Columbia, Douglass High School spends roughly $14,300 per student, according to the data, the highest amount in the district.

Columbia public schools that spend the most per student

These are the Columbia public schools with the highest per pupil expenditures.

School Per pupil cost
Douglass High School $14,362.00
Oakland Middle School $11,400.00
New Haven Elementary School $10,783.00
Thomas Benton Elementary School $10,425.00
Battle High School $10,091.00

The school, significantly smaller in enrollment than the city’s three other public high schools, serves as an alternative high school for students who have difficulty performing in a traditional classroom setting. It provides smaller classrooms and intervention methods for at-risk students in the district.

By dedicating more per-student spending, the district has been able to maintain the number of students graduating from Douglass over the years, CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said.

Columbia schools take into account a number of factors when determining per-student spending, Baumstark said. Those include enrollment, special needs and resources. The cost per student is based on equity, not equality, she said, adding: “The goal is to meet every student’s needs.”

The reason Douglass High School spends $14,300 per pupil, while Mill Creek Elementary School spends $6,500 per pupil is that students at Mill Creek do not require as much help and resources as those in Douglass, Baumstark said.

Columbia public schools that spend least per student

These are the Columbia public schools with the lowest per pupil spending.

School Per pupil cost
Mill Creek Elementary School $6,595
Mary Paxton Keeley Elementary School $6,947
Beulah Ralph Elementary School $7,115 
Rock Bridge Elementary School $7,395 
Fairview Elementary School $7,841

DESE also notes that the differences in spending at buildings can vary because of different programs, the level of education and experience of teachers and the cost of living in the area.

Columbia spends the most per student on high schoolers. The per-student costs at the city’s four public high schools range from $8,365 to $14,362, for an average $10,678.

At the middle schools, expense per student ranges from $9,056 to $11,400, for an average of $9,837.

Per-student spending at the elementary level ranges between $6,595 and $10,783. That’s $8,522 per student on average.

According to DESE’s School Finance Report, Columbia Public Schools has spent roughly $12,000 per student since 2017, while the state’s average hovers at $11,000.

Supervising editor is Kathy Kiely.

  • Education reporter, fall 2019. Graduate student. Reach me at or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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