Tuesday, March 23, 2010


About a month ago I read an article about how much it costs to educate a child in the American public school system. Just south of $10,000 per child per year is the national average, and in--was it Kansas City??--it's about $15,000.

At our church school it costs approximately $2000 to educate a child for a year.

Now I will grant that in many ways we're talking apples and oranges here. We're small, we can be as selective as we choose, we have kids from reasonably literate, stable homes.

And we have our weaknesses. No science lab, few electives. . . and no swimming pool, unlike the Kansas City schools.

But still. For 1/5 the cost we churn out graduates who function well at whatever work they do and who go to college and do well, the gaps in their education compensated for by their skills at setting goals and meeting them.

Which makes me wonder if the public education system is one big sieve into which liquid money is poured, as it were.

I overheard a very interesting conversation in the Washington-Dulles airport the other week, during my long layover on the way to Virginia. Two principals and two or three teachers were on their way back to the Midwest after some sort of conference in the Washington area. I was so intrigued with their conversation that I took notes, but I don't think they caught on.

There were no stories about challenging kids, no asking each other for advice on teaching, no comments about curriculum, absolutely nothing indicating that their work was the slightest bit of a calling or had anything to do with service and sacrifice. The entire time, all they talked about was wages, contracts, investments, days off, fairness, and retirement. Especially about retirement.

"Last year out of my 20 days I gave 8 days back! We're supposed to have 20 vacation days but they schedule all this stinkin' stuff when the kids are gone. . . It's always bugged me that custodians can take a fishing trip to Ontario in October, when school is in session!"

"It's not fair that principals and teachers get the same retirement. Teachers are required to be there 9 months but principals have to be there all year."

"The only negotiation I had was when I was offered the position. I was offered a two-year contract."
"That's the best time to negotiate--when you're first hired. After that you're stuck."
"It's gonna be the same way for teachers with the economy the way it is."

"If it gets to be too much I can drop my keys on my desk and tell the state that's it, I'm retiring. I'll do that under one of two conditions--if my health requires it or they change the retirement plan."
"So you're saying you're a principal with principles?"
"Yes! I'm a principal with principles!"

Ok, fine, so this is their job and they need to think about making a living and preparing for the future. But listening to this made me oh so thankful for Mr. Smucker and Miss Amy over at Brownsville Mennonite, whose hearts are in their work, and who talk about kids and tests and grades and classes, and who never mention contracts or compare wages or count the years until they can retire.

And maybe this helps explain why we can educate kids for $8000 a year less.

Quote of the Day:
"If Dad ever runs for President, it'll be to ease the pressure that's on his life."


  1. Kansas pays just over $4000 per child. I don't know if that should make us proud or ashamed.

    Our principal pointed out to me recently that if benefits normally included in public school teachers' salaries were paid to teachers in our Christian schools, the costs per student would be very similar. That was an eye-opener to me.

    We're studying public education this month at school--as our current issues topic. I'm amazed at how hot a topic this is. Every issue of our daily paper has another story of distress or controversy. Consolidation, staff cutbacks, program cutbacks--all sorts of desperate attempts to come up with enough money are being discussed or tried.

    The KC reference might have referred to the suburb of Shawnee Mission, which I read just yesterday has the highest income of any district in the state. I think that means the local citizens vote in favor of mill levies that add significant amounts to the funds available from the state. Because the population is wealthy, they're willing to vote these higher property taxes for themselves.

    At any rate, like you, thinking about public education makes me very thankful for the blessing of having private Christian schools.

  2. Two thoughts: At the vast majority of private schools, there are little if any provisions for special needs children. I believe very strongly that as a society, we have the responsibility to provide education for them. (At 50, I am returning to grad school so I'm qualified to teach them.) However, that is very expensive. That gets added into the per-student cost. My students have one-on-one and occasionally one-on-two instruction. Even though that is mostly provided by aides instead of a teacher, it is still costly. But, oh so worth it.

    And being married to a long-time teacher, I also understand the comments you overheard. Teaching in public school is getting harder and harder. And at the same time, more is being expected of teachers. The way it is now, the school is totally responsible for both student's academic achievement and their attendance. When a student gets in trouble, it is highly likely that the parent will come and chew out the school staff for "picking on their child." I bet there aren't many parents of students in your school with that attitude.

    Teachers are wearing out. We, as a profession, are constantly being asked to do more with less, and give up more. It's hard to keep that idealistic bent when you are giving your all, but considered a failure. (Technically, I am a failure because my students are not at "grade level," even though they are all severely mentally disabled.) I wish it were different, because teaching is a calling and can be a joy. But these days it's just not.

  3. Amen!
    "liquid money through a sieve" seems to nail it right on the head
    I'm one of those 'radicals' who doesn't think the federal gov't has any business being in the education business. A big bulky bureaucracy doesn't do much of anything well and that includes education (nor, I'm afraid we'll find out, health care).