Money is not the end of the story, nor is it the most important determinant of a child’s education. Nevertheless, as “Raising Inequity” shows, money does matter. Unequal access to funding can make a huge difference in students’ experiences at school. Too often, children are kept in the dark with regard to this truth.
This toolkit raises awareness about the daily costs of education by encouraging students from across the socioeconomic spectrum to use mathematical reasoning and research skills to examine issues of funding inequity.
- What aspects of a school day depend on financial or economic resources?
- Why is it beneficial to think about how much an education costs?
- How does the cost of a school day potentially contribute to inequality?
- With your class, make a list of all of the resources that go into their school day. For younger students, you may want to provide scaffolding by creating separate charts that say: school supplies, books, technology and people. Older students can make one large list and then sort their list by categories. Depending on your school setting, transportation, assistive technologies and various other categories might also appear as students brainstorm. Food—like school breakfasts and lunches—is also important, as are sports and playground equipment. Don’t worry if students forget whole categories; they are likely to come up with a list that is helpful even if it is not comprehensive.
- Once students have created lists and sorted them by categories, break students into working groups and assign each group one category. Provide them with Web access and/or school supply catalogs. Give each group time to assign approximate prices to each item on their list. Students working on salaries will want to search for average salaries of particular professions.
Note: Younger students may want to focus only on school supplies, where the numbers are relatively small. In this case, it is fine for each working group to calculate the same thing; they may end up with different calculations and can discuss the reasons for that.
Older students can use algebraic reasoning to figure out how much of each item is used over time, and to figure out approximately how much would need to be allocated for one day of a teacher’s, custodian’s or bus driver’s wages. For example:
The average school bus driver in the United States earns $29,000 a year. money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/bus-driver/salary
There are 180 days in the school year.
$29,000 / 180 = $161 per day
Our school has about 20 buses. $161 per day x 20 = $3,220 per day spent on paying bus drivers’ salaries.
Primary students can simply look up prices of supplies and create a chart showing how much is spent on the various supplies in the classroom. For example:
Markers: $3.85 per box
Pencils: $1.92 per box
Once a full list is made, add these numbers together at the bottom of the supply chart.
- Bring students back together and have them share the numbers they came up with and discuss what surprises them, if anything, about how much money goes into a school day. Then, ask them to think about the following questions:
Is the amount of money a school has important for how well that school can educate children? Why or why not?
What would it look like for your school to have significantly more money than it does?
What would it look like for your school to have significantly less money than it does?
What is surprising to you about the amount of money it takes to run a school?
How different do you think society might look if schools had more equal access to funding? How could we help make this happen?