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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Free no more

This proposal, put forth by a veteran high school English teacher, is a bad idea in so many ways:

With states across the country facing huge budget deficits and potential devastating cuts to services, the time has come to start charging parents tuition for their children's public school education.

If parents of the 47 million students in the United States who attend kindergarten through 12th grade were billed $360 per child per year — that's $2 a day for each of the 180 days of instruction — nearly $17 billion would be generated.

[. . .]

While a free education for all is a wonderful gift, it's simply not possible anymore.

But a "free" public education isn't just a "wonderful gift." It's been integral to the way Americans think about the republic. And adding fees on top of the tax money already going to schools means education does not quite equate to other things that cost that once were free (such as TV) the way the author claims it does. And community colleges that once charged no tuition and now do have never been considered part of the free-education contract by most people.

The other significant problem is that the writer buys into the thoroughly disreputable notion that all we have to do to fix education is spend more money. We keep spending more and more and getting less and less, and the answer is always, "well just spend even more." Nearly $600 billion a year already goes into public education -- $17 billion more is going to make a big difference? Per-pupil spending ranges from $5,683 a year in Utah to $15,981 in New York. The nationwide average is around $9,600. What is $360 more a year going to add that would be worth the betrayal felt by parents who already, as the author notes, nickled and dimed to death by schools that are supposedly free.

One likely outcome, which the writer probably would not really like, would be to drive many parents from public to private education. If you have to pay fees either way, might as well go where there's a better chance of a good education.


Larry Morris
Tue, 09/08/2009 - 10:20am

The way it's going down here (in Texas) we already have to have fund raisers to pay for equipment the school funding should already pay for - I'd like to see an accounting of where the existing taxes are going (buildings and grounds and administrative salaries, is my guess) before we throw good money after bad.

Michael B-P
Tue, 09/08/2009 - 2:34pm

Parents of children enrolled in Fort Wayne Community Schools do in fact already pay out-of-pocket for the extras: athletic warmups, band uniforms, musical instruments, event admission fees, etc., and do so willingly although reduced levels of contribution are certainly commensurate with less favorable economic conditions being experienced in the community. I do seem to recall a time when textbook rental fees were either insignificant or nonexistent whereas these now typically exceed $100 annually per student (at the middle and high-school levels), so perhaps an investigation into textbook prices paid by the schools could shed light on some of the economics involved in that aspect. In any case, instituting additional compulsory fees in order to attend public schools would do nothing less than blow a hole in our society's tradition of access to opportunity and lead to a yet wider chasm between economic classes. On the other hand, I suspect that allowing teachers and administrators greater leeway to filter out slackers and obstructionist students while rewarding those who exhibit a good work ethic with continued attendance could in itself provide a source of significant savings (and improved academic performance) for the public schools.