Money is something that few of us like to talk about. We almost all wish we had more and we are almost always trying to find ways to save some. But it is a necessary part of the conversation when it comes to sending your child to a private school.
Culturally we have come to expect education to be free. The only cost being those property taxes you may have to pay. It is hard for families to justify paying for an education when there is a 'free' option within their own community. Especially when that free option is a 'good' school district. I am here to say, though, that the old adage is true; you get what you pay for. I don't say that to diminish the hard work of most public school teachers. I am, after all, still one. But your 'free' education comes with a cost. Due to it being free, you get less of a voice when it comes to the educational decisions made for your child. And the money you do pay in, through taxes, is not distributed evenly to every student. So if you happen to have a normal/average kid, your child actually receives less resources from the public education system than others might. The result of all of this is that your free education may be costing your family in many ways; the time your child could be honing skills such as art and music, your monetary resources as you pay to supplement that free education, and lost potential as students overcome the baggage inherent in a traditional model.
In a 'free' public school families get almost no say about who a child has as a teacher or what courses are offered to the student body. In the public school model we routinely start leaving our five year olds in the hands of people we have met one time (or not at all if you consider the support staff with whom they will interact) and in a facility that was decided purely by location. We don't do that in almost any other aspect of our child's life. In fact, most of us spend a painstaking amount of time when they are young considering the in-home versus facility daycare options, Montessori vs traditional, bilingual vs monolingual models, and scrutinizing the costs vs services provided by each one. Sometimes going out of our way and beyond our budget to provide the best for our child. What happens at year five that makes us so willing to forget all the diligence we put into providing a quality education for the youngest of our community? Nothing. We just now have a free option, so the subconscious expectations are lowed. Because it is free, we rely on the powers that be to provide us with a good experience. If that doesn't happen, parents often write it off as a fluke or justify that most of the teachers are good so it’s fine. That is not true for a democratic school. There is no 'bad' year in math or 'horrible' 2nd grade teacher to beg your guidance counselors not to give you. If those situations arise, the School Meeting determines a course of action. Students have the power to issue complaints against staff that are not performing well and to help hire new staff when their skills are needed. Parents, students, and staff are one community whose sole focus is to help each child find their own path.
District funds are also not spent evenly on each child. Money tends to be clustered toward the extremes. One extreme being severely disabled students. These students may require one specific aid all day long. Factor in additional services a school may provide like occupational therapies and you are looking at a student who can cost the district $17,000+ per year for their day-to-day care alone. Higher functioning special needs students who receive reading support classes, 1-on-1 tutoring, or pull-out lessons also receive more funds proportionally due to staffing than your 'average' student. It is not just students with special needs though. Advanced level courses, which tend to have smaller class size numbers, also take up more resources as they tend to have staff with higher degrees, training, and seniority teaching them. That isn't to say that special needs students or academically gifted students don't deserve resources and focus. They definitely do. It is just to say that the dollar per student that you see listed on a school website is an average, and in general does not represent the resources spent on your student. The tuition at a democratic school is distributed between rent, staff, and materials as the School Meeting sees fit. The students help make decisions, based on their individual needs, that determine how resources are distributed.
Parents should also consider the ways in which a democratic school helps their student to save time and make back some of the money they have to spend supplementing their 'free' education. During a normal school day at a democratic school a student can take piano lessons or have a music class, learn how to play chess, receive tutoring for an upcoming ACT test, or go on a field trip to the state park/science museum/art museum. These would normally be extra costs to a parent but can be easily fit into the democratic school day. If there isn't someone on staff that can provide a specific service, the School Meeting can vote to spend discretionary funds to hire someone to teach a very specific class or skill. If you are doing these types of things outside of school, not only is there a monetary cost but there is also the cost of time. Your extremely talented pianist is given the freedom to practice during the school day or your athletically gifted child does math tutoring at school to avoid hours of homework that keeps them up late at night due to being a competitive gymnast. The flexibility of a democratic school model allows students to spend time wisely, instead of being shuffled from class to class during the day and then activity to activity in the evening. Other factors to consider are after-school care. For students that live in my personal community, it costs about $85/week to have someone watch your child after school through a franchised type program. So $340 per month minimum to have someone watch your child as you work during the day, in addition to your free education. That is over half the cost of tuition per month. The hours at E. C. Stanton will run from 7:30-5:30 to help provide more room for parents who work traditional hours and to alleviate the need for extra costly programs.
Though there are practical reasons for attending a democratic school, the one cost of a free education that is almost impossible to recover is the cost of lost potential. As we force our students through the motions of required courses, demeaning grading schemes, and a system that is meant to judge them all against some arbitrarily defined criteria, we change our kids. We can beat the love of learning and imagination right out of them through memorized vocabulary and fast forgotten facts. We can take their actual skills and interests and turn them into undervalued hobbies as we produce more cogs in the machine. The machine is changing though. The factory workers that we created fifty years ago aren't needed any more. We need problem-solvers, creators, deep thinkers, and visionaries to lead the world of tomorrow. In my opinion, it has taken the education system far too long to get to this realization. We will have generations of kids for whom the skills they learned in our current K-12 model are not relevant for the economy in which they live. In fact, we are starting to see this already. We have Millennials with amazing college degrees living at home, working in food service, swimming in student debt that did nothing wrong but buy into the system that told them that succeeding at school was the key to success. It just isn't that simple any more. There is so much more than a piece of paper required for success in our new global world. Creating young adults who cannot cope with that reality is the hugest loss of all. That loss of potential can't even begin to be measured in terms of money. Giving our children the freedom to love the process of learning is invaluable. In an age where any fact is one Internet search away, we need to give our children the skills to walk any path with tenacity and without fear. Democratic schools can do this for your child. Tuition is what is required to make these schools a reality until the public sector catches up.
1979 Sandy Lane
Fort Worth, Texas
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First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church
1979 Sandy Lane Fort Worth, Texas