The incredible number of variables between students, practitioners and the educational goals make it impossible to specify a relationship to any mathematical degree. But I think we can agree on a few fundamental principles:
- With zero education funding, there is zero education.
- With greater than zero education funding there is greater than zero education.
- A certain number of dollars must be spent before a meaningful educational result can be achieved, therefore the first funding on the scale do not produce as much of a result as the funding that achieves this critical mass. (For instance, $1 is a worthless funding amount… I couldn’t get a hungry man to teach my kid to sing a song for a dollar, but with $30 my kid can have a piano lesson).
- At some point an additional education dollar does not improve the quality of education as much as the dollar spent before it (I get a greater increase in education from moving from no school to a one-room schoolhouse than I do moving from a one-room to a two-room schoolhouse).
- At some point an additional dollar does not improve education at all because there is a limit to what a person can learn. (Having five private teachers for each child would be amazing; having a hundred each would be of no additional help).
- Public schools are not funded to an extent that they can provide the absolute maximum education for their students (if it were, every kid would have an individual team of teachers).
Taken together, these principles and facts prove that that spending (for example) $14K per student produces a higher educational quality in Loudoun County than $10K, albeit not 40% higher quality. So in answer to everyone who asks "is there any relationship between education funding and quality," the answer is "Yes."
That's all academic though. Let's talk about reality by putting this relationship up against two economic realities. First, there is a strong relationship between quality of education and economic success. We know that as a rule the more educated our kids are, the more successful they will be, and the more successful they are the better off we all are. On the other hand, if 100% of our effort and earnings went into education, that would kill our economic future in its own way. So somewhere in between 0% and 100% is the amount that maximizes our economic return on investment in education.
There are two more practical limiters, first being the state and federal laws establishing minimums that communities must spend on public education. There is also a true maximum in that there is a limit of how much any public school system has ever spent on public education. Nobody is suggesting spending an unlimited amount of money on education, and nobody is suggesting spending no money on education. And so, in reality, we are working within a much narrower frame when we debate education funding than most people like to acknowledge.
What this really demonstrates is that the debate about the relationship between educational funding and quality is that the debate isn’t about that relationship. When someone asks that question, they are inherently raising two other questions:
- Can we improve the quality of education by improving the efficiency or the priorities with which educational funding is spent, instead of by increasing the funding?
- What quality of education should the public pay for, and at what point is additional quality the responsibility of the individual student or family?
I have addressed the question of efficiency and priorities before on this blog (Efficiency: Got Facts?). If you read the outside efficiency studies, educational outcomes and spending comparisons you see that Loudoun is ahead of its peer school districts in efficiency and in dollars focused on the classroom. It is not realistic to say that LCPS can be fully funded just by getting more efficient.
As for the question of how much educational quality the public should pay for, that is a question of value about which reasonable people can (and do) disagree. My contention is that in Loudoun County the majority (but certainly not everyone) feels that we should fund education to a point that keeps our kids ahead of the kids they will be competing with for opportunities after they graduate, while insisting on the operational efficiency LCPS has repeatedly demonstrated.
Now, when someone asks me about the relationship between education funding and quality, I'll just refer them to this post.