The price of education

I don’t recall learning during my 13-year attendance in K-12 public schools how much that education cost and where the money came from.


Priceless (Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr)

I remember having a vague notion that the funds for education came from “the state”, but I really didn’t know what that meant.

That’s a shame.  I believe if students and parents better understood that the cost to educate a student in public schools runs between $8,000 to $13,000 per year they may appreciate it more.

Further, many don’t realize that this cost is relatively consistent across public school districts.  I’ve had many conversations where taxpaying individuals could not believe that the spending per student in a well-reputed school district, was less or about the same as a poorly performing urban school district.  It was eye-opening/myth debunking for them.  Several of them would utter, “I guess it’s not about the spending then.”

Knowing this information may allow them to better understand that it’s quite a privilege, they should try to get the most out of it and not take it for granted.

Further, if students better understood that their education was funded by their families and neighbors, through property taxes, and how much was paid in property taxes, that might make students a bit more appreciative of the sacrifices their neighbors make to ensure they have a better chance to become self-sufficient and contributing members of society.

Schools could further reinforce this by establishing a code of conduct, primarily based on courtesy and respect, for this privilege.  For example, for receiving a $10,000 per year education, you are expected to be courteous, clean and respectful.  If you cannot maintain this standard, you will lose your access to this privilege so others can gain maximum benefit.

Maybe if parents couldn’t ensure a cooperative student, they would be billed for a portion of the cost of the child’s education or have the choice of removing the student from school.

Perhaps, each year, the schools could provide students and parents with a report showing the cost of their education.  This would be similar to what companies do with an annual total compensation report that shows associates the total value of the wages and benefits they receive for employment, which I always take to mean, “quit complaining, you cost a lot!”

The same could be said for college education.  When attending an institution with heavy funding from tax dollars, it would be nice for the students and parents to know what the true cost of that education is.

10 thoughts on “The price of education

  1. We kind of do that with our School Accountability Report Cards in California. We also have a website – dataquest – that fills in the blanks. But, now that I look at it, it’s really not written or organized in a way the average person can understand it. In California we only get anywhere from 5-7K per student. But, I think I’m going to try and put something together that shows our expenditures in more general way – Thanks for the thoughts and the idea.

    • You’re welcome. Good luck with that. Let me know if you’d like feedback. I have some experience making compelling financial exhibits.

  2. I am sad to report that your proposal about accountability is unworkable and illegal. Students not only are required by law to attend school until 16 — they have a right to do so. We can’t dismiss them from the school for being disrespectful to the privilege of being there. It is a matter of fact that American “education,” such as it is, is a right and not a privilege. I am not saying whether I believe that this ought to be the way that things are, just that it is the way that things are.

    What ought our education system to provide for students using the resources taken by legal force from taxpayers or borrowed on their behalf? The money is largely wasted teaching subjects and lessons that we disconnect from life and experience in order to teach them and then contrive to reconnect to life afterward often unsuccessfully. There certainly are no good excuses for bad manners, but when students show disrespect for their educations, they may be reflecting an honest evaluation of the value of those educations, whatever the inflated price may be.

    Whenever a relationship whose nature ought to be a two-way give-and-take like that between student and school goes bad, both parties bear responsibility. It’s wrong to put the entire blame on the student or even on the student’s family. The relationship is certainly strained or broken in many places. Is it always to be the student’s fault? Schools are, in terms of their resistance to change and innovation and certainly not their politics, the most conservative institutions I’ve ever experienced; yet they purport to prepare students for a world that changes more rapidly every day.

    I hold my students accountable to me, but I find many of their complaints about their educations (which I choose to tolerate) and teachers (which I rebuff as a matter of collegiality and survival) to be well-founded and well-thought-out. Some students are surprisingly astute customers of education, but they are well aware that the variety of styles, curricula, and points of view from which they may choose is stiflingly limited. I wonder what will happen if they ever gain the power to choose from a greater selection?

    I guess my point is that your post seems to assume that the education is worth what is paid for it by the state. The state, by definition, pays too much for everything it buys, and the bureaucracy as well as the political class always has a perverse incentive to do so. For this and the reasons I give above, the assumption may not hold up under careful investigation.

    MP 🙂

    • Mr. P., Thanks for the thoughts. I’ll point out that only one part of my post is unworkable under current laws (which is sad) — the part of expecting good behavior in exchange for an expensive education. I believe it is workable to educate students about the cost of their education and where the money comes from, no? That might help some gain a higher appreciation.

      As for expecting good behavior vs. the right of education, is it not possible do something like removing disrespectful students from class and put them into a solitary class where they can work on their own until they demonstrate that they can play nice with others?

      I agree with you that it is not always the student’s fault. In this post ( and previous posts I identified what I think are the four broken feedback loops in education.

      In this post ( I address the tough to change nature of education.

      “I guess my point is that your post seems to assume that the education is worth what is paid for it by the state.” -Mr. P.
      I didn’t intend to make this assumption. As you can probably tell from my other posts, I don’t think it is worth it (e.g.

      The main point of my post is that I made it all the way through K-12 education without knowing how much it cost and where the money came from. Even though I was one that appreciated most of my education, I may have appreciated it more if I better understood it then.

  3. Seth:

    Beyond the student not knowing the annual cost as well as the accumulated cost [K-12], the average taxpayer has no earthly idea as well.

    What would of grand interest is a pie chart for each and every school district allocating the cost of each child’s education and what these dollars are allocated to i.e. social overhead capital, teacher and administrative compensation, benefits, pensions, text books, sports, etc. One might find the allocation insightful as the “cost of each student’s education” is more likely associated with the “cost of the delivery model”. That the argument that the money allocated is not reaching the student for the student’s benefit would be much substantiated.

    This is a 3 minute video that is very enlightening:

    This is an 85 minute discussion at the CATO Institute:

    • Also, regarding your comment, it might be nice to have a third party keep track of cost per pupil. While I don’t believe we need a Federal Department of Education, if I were Arne Duncan I might be inclined to start a project to collect and publish on the Internet, in an easy to understand fashion, public school district spending so parents can compare the costs, sources and uses of money in their districts.

  4. Pingback: Subtle perversion leads to failure | Our Dinner Table


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