Thursday, November 01, 2007

Referendum 1 Q&A #3

I'm finally answering Kim's question about tuition and such.

Q. Ok, so we have been talking a lot about this in our home. We were both ready to vote yes until we saw the income guidelines. It seems that not many people could actually afford the rest of the tuition. It helps a few, those who could already afford tuition, but the rest of us who don't make much money couldn't afford it.
For example, those who make $30K and have 2 children are the ones that would get the $3000, but then they still have to come up with the other 2K.
Then you have those who make $150K, already send their kids to private school because they can afford it and they are going to get an extra $500/year that they don't really need.

Those are our only issues with it. Any thoughts? :)

A. Okie Dokie. I'll try to do my best to answer some of your questions and concerns.
As you said, a family of 4 who makes $30K per year would receive $3000 per year under this program.

According to, the average private school costs $4000 per year (not including boarding schools like Rowland Hall, whose tuition rates are astronomical and won't be accepting vouchers anyway). Just for kicks, let's do the math on this "average" school.

If a family receives a $3000 voucher, they are then accountable for the remaining $1000 for that year's school tuition. Divide this number by 12 months and the amount a family of four who makes $30,000 each year is responsible to pay per month is about $83.33. People pay more than this each month for cable TV.

Now, of course this is just one child going to a private school. If the same family sent two children to the same school the per month cost would be $166.66 per month. Still a bargain in my book, especially if your child is truly in need of a different type of education.

(When we were living in Littleton, Colorado and making about $25,000 per year we sent Kaitybean to a private preschool that we loved. Her tuition was $125 per month. We had three children at the time, paid approximately $1000 per month on housing expenses (about half our monthly income) and we were still able to swing $125 per month for school tuition because it was important enough to us at the time.)

So, that's the math for the "average" school. But knowing that average means that many schools are higher and many are lower, I think it might be more helpful to look at a case study.

I called the private school closest to us to find out information on their tuition. They charge $5700 per year for K-8th grades. Without a voucher this would be $475 per month, per student. Not doable for a family that makes $30K a year. However, if this same family were to receive a $3000 per year voucher, they would then be responsible for $2700 per year. This works out to $225 per month, per student. That may seem hefty, but is about the cost of an average car payment. Easily doable? Maybe not. If your child is struggling and desperately needs a different choice? Most parents I know would find a way to work it out.

But, even if the parent could not work it out, there are other options. This same family of 4 making $30,000 would be eligible for this particular private school's lowered tuition rate. (In order to qualify, the student's family of 4 must make less than $38,023 per year.) Unless classes are full (which usually isn't the case), this nonprofit school offers to simply "eat" 40% of tuition costs per student. This would bring tuition costs down to $3420, leaving this family with only $420 per year to come up with on their own (that's $35 per month). This is, of course, best case scenario. The woman I talked with said that they were not sure whether or not they would continue this program as is after Referendum 1 is in place. She said that, if they do not continue the program in its present form, they will most likely still offer some form of tuition assistance to low income families. For instance, a lower percentage discount (a 20% discount would leave parents responsible for $1560 per year or $130 per month). Or, perhaps 40% off of the remaining tuition after the voucher. 60% of $2700 is $1620 or $135 per month, about the same.

This case scenario could be repeated at nearly all of the private schools in Utah. Almost every school I looked up offers financial aid in some form: tuition assistance, grants or scholarships. There are resources to help parents cover the additional tuition cost after the voucher amount is applied.

Another resource is an education loan, such as those offered through Sallie Mae. Taking out a loan to pay for private school may not be the ideal solution any more than student loans are an ideal solution for higher education funding. It is, however, one in an arsenal of many solutions.

There is definitely a gap between the voucher amount and the amount of an average private school tuition. But, for a parent whose child is in need of a different choice, making up the difference is doable. There are many resources available to help parents make up the difference.

As for the $500 voucher for wealthy families, here's the reasoning behind that:

First of all, parents who already send their children to private school are not eligible under this program to receive any voucher money. Parents who already have the money and the desire to send their children to private school will not benefit from this program. This is only for children who are new to private schools.

So why should a family of four making $150K per year get $500 from the state to send their children to private school? For them, it is simply a token, an incentive. Wealthy parents can afford to pay for their children's education, but many still choose to take advantage of our public schools. Wouldn't it be great if we were, somehow, able to convince these parents to take their children out of public schools and to fund the majority of their children's education on their own? This would lower the class size while still leaving the wealthy parent's (usually considerable) taxes in the education budget. The $500 does simply that. It doesn't make much difference in actually paying for a private education, but the cost of giving a parent a $500 incentive to pay for their own children's education is much less than the amount of taxes that parent is likely paying into the public education system. Seems like another win-win.

I'm sorry I've gotten so wordy. I'll try to finish this up.

Since the maximum voucher amount is less than the average private school tuition, funding the remaining amount will be a sacrifice. But funding the remainder is doable for a committed parent and it is made even more doable through already available financial aid resources.

The fact that there is going to be some sacrifice involved for families taking advantage of this program makes the program much more viable, much more likely to succeed and much less likely to damage public schools in the process. If the voucher amount per family was equal to private school tuition, many more parents would take advantage of it. This would put a much higher burden on the state and make the program far too expensive to implement. As it stands, only parents who are truly committed to sending their children to private school or whose children have true academic need for a change will take advantage of vouchers. The voucher amounts (which I'm certain were carefully decided upon by legislators) serve to make the program self-limiting. As I stated in my last Q&A post, a voucher system that limits the numbers of students who take advantage of it (whether by lottery or by this type of logical self-limiting) is more likely to succeed and also more likely to be used by students from diverse backgrounds.

And lets not forget that a voucher program benefits ALL students, even public-schooled students whose parents either can't or choose not to fund the difference between a voucher and private school tuition. Public schools have been shown to improve greatly within a few years of implementation of a voucher system. See Caroline Hoxby's article, the link to which is in this post.

I hope this has been helpful and not toooooo terribly long.

Thanks Kim. Let me know if any of this has not made sense or if you have any additional questions.


Kim said...

Thank you Heather. I think I will vote for it, but I am pretty sure that dh will not. He is just not happy with how it is set up and doesn't really think that it will do any good, that anyone will be able to use it. I've sent him the link to your answer though. Thanks friend!

Heather said...

Anything for you, my dear! :)