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School is Expensive, but...

by Tammy Drennan


Let’s face it, school is expensive.


Even if we managed to pare down the costs to about $5000 a year per student, as some believe we could in a fully private system, we’re still talking a lot of money. A family with three children would be looking at a school bill of at least $15,000 a year. Not too many individual families would realize that amount in saved school taxes, minus the existence of a government school system.


This is the argument many voucher and charter school proponents use to try to prove that fully independent education is not feasible. Where would the money come from if not from the government? Obviously, some serious scholarships and aid would be necessary.


Enter the college illustration. In a January (2010) speech sponsored by Hillsdale College, Adam Meyerson, president of The Philanthropy Roundtable, noted that: “Today, Americans voluntarily give over $30 billion a year to support higher education…” That’s on top of the massive amount of government funding colleges get (Hillsdale College accepts no government funding, setting a far better example than most).


That’s a lot of money, but it’s only the beginning, really. Mr. Meyerson also points out that “last year Americans gave $300 billion to charity…. Almost twice what we spent on consumer electronics — equipment including cell phones, iPods and DVD players. Americans gave three times as much to charity last year as we spent on gambling and ten times as much as we spent on professional sports.”


This is good news if ever there was good news. Americans care about education, and they care about it deeply.


America has a long and serious commitment to education. Historians tell us that during our founding period, from the early 1600s through the 1700s, America was the most literate country on earth — and growing more literate all the time, as evidenced by the proliferation, sale and purchase of print shops, book shops, newspapers, political treatises, imported books, journals, correspondence, reading primers, textbooks, and much more. Legal documents, such as wills, also paint a picture of widespread and growing literacy in early America.


And education was largely privately funded. Because it was also largely independent it was varied, creative, innovative and flexible. Improvement was easy because there was no central system to prevent it. There was no government system to bog down progress with bureaucracy.


Could it happen again? Imagine the possibilities in today’s world, where access to good books, materials and equipment is so easy! Imagine freeing education, really freeing it, from the dinosaur of a model that is keeping young people from truly soaring, from developing their individual strengths and talents and venturing out into the world in a whirl of confidence and competence.


Mr. Meyerson reminds us that Americans happily fund not only higher education, but “museums and orchestras, hospitals and health clinics, churches and synagogues, refuges for animals, protection of habitat, youth programs such as scouting and little league, boys and girls clubs, and grass-roots problem-solvers who help the needy and homeless in their neighborhoods.”


“Private charitable giving,” Meyerson says, “sustains all of these institutions and gives them the freedom to make their own decisions.”


Government spending on education exceeds $600 billion annually. That’s $600 billion of American taxpayers’ money. Picture all that money back in the hands it came from. With our long history of dedication to education, as well as our long history of innovation and our demonstrated love of charity toward others, we could create a revolution in education that would shine as an example to the rest of the world the same way we have always stood as a beacon of hope to those living under tyranny.


It’s a real possibility. All the evidence supports the feasibility of fully independent education. It’s up to us to break the chains holding us back and muster the courage to move forward. A bright and hopeful future for all is directly tied to the freedom we choose to exercise now.



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Updated March 10, 2010