D.C. public schools are spending more per student than any state in the nation, writing an $18,667 check for each child, to oust New York as the top spender, according to 2010 census data released Thursday.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Public Schools outspent all of the 50 largest school districts in the nation except New York City, with a price tag of $15,582 per student.

Top-spending states
Rank State Per-pupil cost in '09/'10 Cost (rank) in '08/'09
1 D.C. $18,667 $18,126 (1)
2 New York $18,618 $15,552 (4)
3 Wyoming $16,841 $16,408 (2)
4 New Jersey 15,783 $16,271 (3)
5 Connecticut $15,274 $15,175 (5)
Top per-pupil spenders among the 50 largest school districts
Rank District Per-pupil cost in '09/'10 Cost (rank) in '08/'09
1 New York City $19,597 $19,146 (1)
2 Montgomery County $15,582 $15,447 (2)
3 Baltimore $14,711 $14,379 (3)
4 Milwaukee $14,038 $13,444 (5)
5 Prince George's County $14,020 $13,756 (4)
9 Fairfax County $12,554 $13,210 (6)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau      

Prince George's County Public Schools ranked fifth among large districts, at $14,020, while Fairfax County's public schools came in at ninth by spending $12,554.

Pockets run deep in the Washington area, as smaller school districts in Arlington ($17,519), Alexandria ($17,574) and Falls Church ($18,209) spent even more per student than the larger suburbs.

But despite being the lowest performer in most respects, the District's $18,667-per-student cost -- up from $16,408 the prior year and up 39 percent since 2006 -- topped the region as well as the nation in 2010. The District spent the fourth-most among states in 2009, but was No. 1 in 2008.

"We're setting the stage to have rapid improvement," said Brandon Frazier, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which oversees DC Public Schools and the city's charter schools. "We understand this isn't an immediate return, but it's an important investment [we have] made."

It's not uncommon for top-tier and struggling school systems to both be among the biggest spenders.

Inner-city systems like the District's provide interventions for students living in poverty or who don't speak English at home at a greater level than suburban school districts, while systems like Montgomery County's justify their expensive seats with high achievement. For instance, Montgomery has topped the nation for graduation rates among large school districts for four consecutive years, according to rankings by national magazine Education Week.

"We think our citizens are getting a strong return on that investment and we're serving our students really well," said schools spokesman Dana Tofig.

Under Maryland law, school systems are required to increase their spending per student every year, without seeking a waiver. However, the county has been unable to keep up with that law during difficult budget times, and Montgomery schools cut their per-student spending in the two school years following the census data.

The question for the District is whether its sizable sum is being spent efficiently, said Matthew Chingos, a researcher with Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

"In the last couple years, there has been evidence of some improvements out of it, but think of the money they're putting in -- $19,000 -- that's a lot of money, and it makes you think. It raises questions," Chingos said.

Mayor Vincent Gray approved a 2 percent increase in the per-pupil spending formula for fiscal 2013. DC Public Schools declined to comment, referring questions to OSSE.

Frazier emphasized that much of the District's spending goes beyond classroom hours, to teacher development, technology and year-round programs.

"Just as the issues plaguing education in the District did not occur overnight, neither will the solutions," he said.