How Much Does a “Normal” education Cost?

How much should we be spending on education? Can anyone really put a quantitative number on that? I have worked with some children who are so profoundly incapacitated no amount of money will help. They have little or no chance of becoming self-sustaining. Without meaning to sound cruel, their time at school is a welcome and needed break for their parents.

Others with limited minds can achieve way above expectations, become self-reliant, experience satisfaction, and give meaning to their lives as well as to the lives of their loved ones.  They may require larger than “normal” amounts of help and money to reach this level of ability. I think of children with Downs Syndrome, Aspergers, and low or borderline IQs who I have witnessed function at high levels in society.

And then there is the so called normal child. Who is this child and what is the normal amount of money we need to spend in order to fully educate them?

I attended a private school mostly for the wealthy. It was an orderly environment, small class sizes, and only two of our graduating class chose not to attend college. I may have been the poorest child at that school and my Dad drove a Cadillac while I had my own vehicle.  That education today is equal to what we spend on expensive colleges.

But I know poverty. I taught in it, walked in it, and experienced the frustrations of it for 16 years. I have seen the debilitating effects that Lareau (2003) writes about stating that parents from different socioeconomic classes have different motivations in raising children. These differences could account for the absence of academic skills in low socioeconomic children when they arrive at school. According to (Lareau, 2003) in poor families it takes strenuous effort just to get through the day. This strain is felt by the children. How much do we spend on these children who have as much ability to contribute as my wealthier classmates did so that they can benefit from education in similar ways?  If we decide not to spend this undetermined amount then is America truly the land of equal opportunity?

Can this number be quantitatively determined? I think not, nor can schools by themselves help children in poverty overcome their home environments. Yet the money and the demand by the public is for schools to do this.

The lack of satisfaction in meeting this demand instead of resulting in programs that work has led to vouchers and charter schools. Only until these methods are proven failures does it seem public education for children living in poverty will truly advance.

I am impatient for that day.  These next few blogs will deal with how the money should be spent, how vouchers, charters, and privatization are just robbing the public in the name of corporate profits.

I would hope that someone can determine a formula detailing how much we need to teach a child with Down’s syndrome, the “normal child”, and the children living in poverty. Each of these children needs a different amount of money to reach their full potential.  We are in era today where public education is viewed by many politicians as growing big government. Education is about growing children, creating citizens. How much should we spend on it and what should it entail. As schools become more homogenous are we truly preparing future citizens for a diverse economic reality? What is the future worth to us who live in the present? How do we avoid being selfish?  These are important questions to answer.


Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life . University of California Press.






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