Number of Public Schools in the US: Key 2023 Data on States & Demographics

Number of Public Schools in the US: Key 2023 Data on States & Demographics
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

One can argue that the number of public schools in the U.S., or in any other country for that matter, reflects the country’s economic strength. After all, the United Nations has identified education as a bedrock of sustainable development.

In the U.S., education remains strong, lending to the new generation and the country as a whole a bright future. But how does American public education fare against education in other industrialized countries? A starting point is to get the numbers right.

There are 130,930 K-12 schools in the U.S. as of 2020, of which 13,452 are regular school districts (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2020). The country’s expansive educational infrastructure has made it possible for the U.S. to secure a rich learning experience for its future generations, regardless of class, age, race, religion and other socioeconomic and political beliefs. Nearly half of the school districts are funded by the state (46.8%), with the other sources coming from federal and local sources.

To get a better picture of this, this article will further discuss statistics behind U.S. public schools, detailing national, state-based, and institutional developments, and comparing the like with U.S. private schools.

Number of Public Schools in the U.S. Table of Contents

The first American public school was founded on April 23, 1635, in Boston, Massachusetts, under the name [the] “Boston Latin School.” Home to well-known alumni, such as John Hancock and Samuel Addams, the secondary school served as a college preparatory class and was made exclusively for male students interested in studying the classics.

Over time, public schools were recognized for their role in making education accessible, affordable, and attentive to current events—and eventually became the model for academic progress in the United States.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Number of Public Schools in the U.S. and Other National Statistics

There are 97,568 public schools in the United States as of 2021, and the number can only grow as each school expects a large number of enrollees per academic year.


  • From an original count of 40.9 million, public school enrollment has continued to increase since 1980 at a rate of 23.9% (Education Data Initiative [EDI], 2020).
  • Enrollment generally had soaring rates between 2010 to 2019 with nearly 48.2 million students in fall 2010 and 49.2 million students in fall 2019 (NCES, 2020).
  • An average of 528 students populates each public school (Admissionsly, 2021).
  • Based on location, the average public school size ranges between 585 students in the city, 656 students in suburban areas, 443 students in towns, and 364 students in rural areas (Education Week, 2021).

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these enrollment rates have decreased as a result of the heightened restrictions, be they in-state or nationwide.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Education, only 48.1 million students attended public schools in the past year, noting a difference of 1.1 million enrollees from 49.2 million in 2019 (EDI, 2020).


Based on the guidelines set by UNESCO, the United States lags behind the global standard on spending for education, as it only allocates 11.6% of public funds to schooling, compared to the international benchmark of 15%.

  • A report from the EDI (2021) notes that, among the 37-developed nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),  the U.S. ranks 5th in terms of funds given per pupil.
  • Further along this scale, the U.S. ranks 12th on account of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in relation to elementary funding.

At a glance, K-12 schools allocate $640.0 billion to public schools, averaging at $12,624 per pupil. Additionally, federal, state, and local governments spend a total of $734.2 billion or $14,484 per pupil. The EDI(2021) further records the expenses as:

  • A total of $57.34 million or $1,131 per pupil comes from the federal government.
  • A total of $344.0 billion or $6,785 per pupil comes from the state.
  • A total of $322.9 billion or $922 per pupil comes from the local government.

average no. of k-12 schools per U.S. state

Key Public School Statistics by State

Between 2000 and 2016, statistics show that enrollment in K-12 public schools has increased in 32 states. However, since the pandemic stalled education, this trend began to decline, with 2019 recording the highest public school enrollment count (Admissionsly, 2021).

Regional Statistics

With the exception of the Midwest, over the years, enrollment has significantly grown in the Southern and Western regions (EDI,2021).

  • Southern regions have accumulated the most students, yielding a total count of 5.97 million enrollees. It has experienced a 51.3% increase since 1990.
  • Meanwhile, regions in the northeast have the smallest population, enrolling only 2.45 million students as of late. It has experienced a 17.3% increase since 1990.
  • Western regions account for 3.89 million pupils, having experienced a 56.3% increase in enrollment since 1990.
  • Enrollment in the midwest reached 3.24 million students. Currently at a “relative decline,” it has experienced but a 15.0% growth since 1990.

State-Based Statistics

Among all the U.S. states, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois make up the top five in public school enrollments, as education districts practically thrive within these communities (EDI,2021).

The number of public schools per state, as well as the percentages of student enrollment, are as follows:


  • In California, a total of 6.86 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools. This is the highest number of K-12 students in the U.S.
  • Although the state has the highest private school attendance (accounting for 643,010 or 9.4% of students), 6.22 million students are enrolled in public schools.
  • California has 10,430 public schools, yielding the most out of all the states (Statista, 2019).
  • Fall enrollment is up 26.7% since 1990.


  • In Texas, a total of 5.84 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools.
  • 5.9 million students are enrolled in public schools, while 347,430 or 6.0% of students are enrolled in private schools.
  • Texas has 8,975 public schools (Statista, 2019).
  • Fall enrollment is up 60.6% since 1990.


  • In Florida, a total of 3.38 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools.
  • 2.91 million students are enrolled in public schools, while 471,580 or 14.0% of students are enrolled in private schools.
  • Florida has 4,181 public schools (Statista, 2019).
  • Fall enrollment is up 52.9% since 1990.

New York

  • In New York, a total of 3.17 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools.
  • 2.7 million students are enrolled in public schools, while 469,720 or 14.8% of students are enrolled in private schools.
  • New York has 1,796 public schools (Statista, 2019).
  • Fall enrollment is up 3.9% since 1990


  • In Illinois, a total of 2.24 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools.
  • 1.98 million students are enrolled in public schools, while 258,280 or 11.6% of students are enrolled in private schools.
  • Illinois has 4, 345 public schools (Statista, 2019).
  • Fall enrollment is up 8.8% since 1990.


Public vs. Private School Key Statistics

Apart from public schools, the United States likewise founded private education systems, owing much of their governance, conceptualization, and expenditure to private corporations.

Established in Florida and Louisiana by Catholic missionaries in the 16th century, these institutions generally reflected the evangelistic prospects of ecclesiastical and civil authorities, such that American schools will preserve certain values and traditions over the years.


There are currently 32,461 private schools in the United States.

  • As of late, enrollment totaled 5.72 million or 10.1% of all K-12 students (EDI,2021).
  • Furthermore, private schools have an average of 176 students per school—with 86% of these scholars from Grades K-8, and 14% from Grades 9-12.

On the other hand, there are currently 97,568 public schools in the country, counting 6,408 primary schools and 30,160 secondary schools in 2021. As of now, enrollment has reached 50.6 million students.

Granted, private institutes tend to bring in lower enrollment rates—as opposed to their public counterparts—due to the exclusivity of their student demographic, be it religious or non-affiliated.

  • Catholicism is the most dominant religious sector in private schools, corresponding to 38.8% of enrollees; while the least popular is Islam, corresponding to 0.8% of enrollees (Admissionsly, 2021).
  • Moreover, the EDI (2021) notes that 1.10 million students enroll at private Catholic elementary schools, and 522,665 students at private Catholic secondary schools.

However, based on current developments,  the enrollment gap between religions is gradually decreasing, likely due to the rapid globalization of faith systems, ideologies, and personal values among students.


As of 2018, it was found that most public school students enroll in the suburbs (EDI,2021). The breakdown is as follows:

  • 39.6% come from suburban areas
  • 30.3% are from the city
  • 19.2% are from rural areas
  • 10.8% are from towns

Meanwhile, most private school students enroll in the city; The rates are as follows:

  • 43.1% come from the city
  • 39.9% come from suburban areas
  • 10.5% come from rural areas
  • 6.5% come from towns

Income and Spending

Public schools are supported by the government; thus, a generous $640 billion is allocated to these institutions. On the other hand, private schools depend on student enrollment for income; based on a report by Admissionsly (2021), industry revenue is expected to grow by 3.8% to $87.5 billion annually.

From these findings, it can be surmised that public schools generally cater to families of lower incomes as the former requires massive financial support from private companies and/or citizens to fully operate.

In a report from 2016, the NCES learned that:

  • Only 19% of chosen public school students and 18% of assigned public school students come from poor households, while private school students only account for 8%.
  • Meanwhile, 56% of chosen public school students and 61% of assigned public school students live in non-poor households, as compared to 79% of private school students.
  • On their parents’ educational attainment, 12% of chosen public school students and 11% of assigned public school students have obtained less than a high-school diploma, a GED, a vocational/technical diploma, an associate’s degree, while only 5% of private school students lack in this aspect.
  • Moreover, 16% of chosen public school students and 15% of assigned public school students have parents with a graduate/professional degree, unlike 32% of private school students.

In line with this, an interesting point is that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, most families coming from the highest income bracket—that is, people with earnings over $75,000—bring their children to public schools, leaving merely 11% of their demographic to private schools. Coming from this, it can be assumed that, while public schools do cater to lower-income backgrounds, the quality of education is not to be overlooked.

In postsecondary education, however, private nonprofit schools outnumber public schools at 55.79% vs. 31.33% share, respectively, suggesting a reversal in trend when it comes to getting a degree.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


It has been statistically proven that private school students obtain better scores in standardized testing.

  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that private school students generally excel in reading, science, and writing assessments.
  • The National Association of Independent Schools, on the other hand, learned that private school students receive higher scores in college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT.
  • Private school graduates average a mean composite score of 23.8, compared to public school students at 20.7. The former tends to perform more consistently across the different testing sections.

However, from a study conducted in 2018, University of Virginia dean, Robert Pianta determined that a student’s academic success relies more on one’s family’s educational attainment and income, as opposed to the school system—be it private, public, or any other.

Furthermore, Indiana University professor Christopher Lubienski, adds that:

Whether it’s a public or private school is not necessarily the defining factor. Private schools tend to score better on tests…But we found that family background differences more than explain the difference between public and private school test scores (U.S. News, 2021).

Thus, it can be said that enrolling in a private school will not make a difference in a child’s studies, for even public schools offer a good education. Rather, the choice between these systems lies at the beholder’s consideration of social identity and financial stature.

total in publiic k-12 expenditures in the U.S.

Demographics of Public School Students

With the abundance of public schools in the U.S., it is highly likely that the student population comes from different walks of life. The following are the different ways to define such demographics:

Financial Aid

Given their ties with the government, public schools are known to provide more support to students in need:

  • 52.3% of public school students are eligible for free/reduced lunch (EDI, 2021).
  • 7.28 million or 14.4% of public school students undergo special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


Furthermore, 1.35 million or 2.7% of public school students are reported to be homeless, with the majority coming from elementary schools (EDI, 2021).

  • Transitional or shared housing conditions comprise 88.9% of these homeless students.
  • Hotel and motel living make up 90,000 or 6.7% of students.
  • 50,000 or 3.7% of students are unsheltered
  • In addition, 250,000 of these homeless students have special needs.

Ethnic Background

As enrollment rates soar in public schools, the leading minority makes up nearly half as much of White students (Admissionsly, 2021).

  • With 23.7 million enrollees as of recent, White students rank as the majority in public schools.
  • Meanwhile, Hispanic scholars are the leading minority, with up to 13.9 million students enrolled.
  • Pacific Islander students make up the least, with only 0.2 million students enrolled in the United States.

A sensitive issue, public schools in America are not without their racial tensions, as explained by Rita Kohli et al. (2017) in their paper “The ‘New Racism’ of K–12 Schools: Centering Critical Research on Racism.” Published in Review of Research in Education, the meta-analysis looked into 186 papers in a U.S. K–12 school context that examined racism.

“We built on a theory of the “new racism”—a more covert and hidden racism than that of the past,” the authors said. They grouped the findings into two main sections: “(1) research that brings to light racism’s permanence and significance in the lives of students of Color through manifestations of what we conceptualize as (a) evaded racism, (b) “antiracist” racism, and (c) everyday racism and (2) research focused on confronting racism through racial literacy and the resistance of communities of Color.” The authors call for “a more direct acknowledgment of racism, as we attend to the experiences and needs of K–12 students of color.”

Source: NCES

Public Primary School Statistics

Public primary schools offer students an open and well-supported starting point in their education, as being one open to diversity, community involvement, and life-long learning.

Starting out with 27.65 million K-8 students in 1980, enrollment in public primary schools began to increase since, and at a rate of 26.9%—peaking at 35.5 million students in 2018 (EDI, 2021).

  • As of late, there are 67,408 public elementary schools out of the 87,498 elementary schools in the U.S. (Admissionsly, 2021).
  • Approximately 35.1 million or 69.4% of all public K-12 students are enrolled in public primary schools.
  • Among these, the largest class sizes come from Grades 6-8, as they yield a total of 11.49 million or 32.7% of K-8 students.

However, after 2018, enrollment was expected to decline at a rate of 1.14%, which was believed to last until 2023. This is likely due to heightened restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected physical attendance nationwide.

Public Secondary School Statistics

Public secondary schools support students on their road to college, providing them with a more insightful, sustainable, and globally-charged perspective towards learning. Beginning at 11.34 million students, secondary schools soon gained 15.20 million more enrollees in 2018—the number was slated to increase by 2.32% in the incoming academic years.

With matriculation rising by 3.71% since 1990, the EDI (2021) reports that enrollment is higher in public secondary schools compared to public elementary schools, regardless of how few public school students reach this level.

  • As of late, there are 23,872 public secondary schools out of the 15.55 million secondary schools in the U.S.
  • Public secondary schools account for 91% of all secondary school students.
  • Approximately 30.6% of all public K-12 students are enrolled in public secondary schools.
  • Each public secondary institute houses an average of 651 students.
  • Among these, Grade 9 has the largest class size, with 4.19 million students.
  • As of now, there are 48.1 million students enrolled in public secondary schools (NCES, 2020).

Furthermore, graduation from public schools increased at a rate of 0.2% after 2018, with 3.62 million students expected to graduate by Spring 2020. Between 2016-2017, the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) has risen to 85%, which indicates the highest measure of public school graduates since its original inception back in 2010-2011 (Admissionsly, 2021).

Are U.S. Public K-12 Schools Still Competitive?

Although statistics on spending fall short of the international standard, United States schools are still considered among the best sources of education, as American school statistics show. It also helps that the country has a robust tech industry, allowing students to get the best educational apps for kids to augment their learning, especially during the pandemic.

Ultimately, the U.S. made it its mission to provide citizens with a world-class education—and the public school system is one way it made learning more affordable and accessible, over the years. As it continues to open its doors to new students, enrollment grew exponentially throughout the nation; in the primary and elementary levels, and across various socioeconomic demographics.

Its current concern now lies in its navigation of the COVID-19 aftermath, as academic institutions are faced with the challenge of bringing students back to school in a safe, orderly, and timely manner.



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  3. Hanson, M. (2021). K-12 School Enrollment & Student Population Statistics. Education Data Initiative.
  4. National Geographic. Apr. 23, 1635 C.E.: First Public School in America.
  5. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. (2020). Back-to-school statistics.
  6. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. (2019). Public and private school comparison.
  7. Pierce, E. (2021). Private School vs. Public School. U.S. News.
  8. Riser-Kositsky, M. (2021). Education Statistics: Facts About American Schools. Education Week.
  9. Statista. (2019). Number of public elementary and secondary schools in the United States in 2019.
  10. What Is a Private School? History of Private Schools in the United States. (2021). State University.

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