Consider this my contribution to a broad discussion that is occurring among classical Christian schools. The question concerns how our schools are to be adequately funded. There are, of course, many ways to go about this, but let me limit my discussion to two very common options. The first is the tuition/tithe donation model, and the second would be the full tuition model.
If a school has a cracker jack development office, then they can have upwards of 15% of their budget funded by donations. If they opt for the full tuition model, then 100% of their budget would be covered by the tuition payments. Left out of the equation would be donations for capital improvements and so forth. Logos School currently follows the tuition/tithe donation model, which I greatly prefer, and for the reasons outlined below.
The basic question has to do with what a Christian school is. Is it a business, or is it a ministry, or is it a hybrid? I would argue that when it is functioning properly, it will be necessarily a hybrid, and should therefore receive hybrid funding.
On the one hand, it is a business, and should be funded by those families who are receiving the services rendered. Such a school teaches a number of subjects that are primarily oriented toward things which are the responsibility of the family to provide — calculus, say, or typing and PE. On the other hand, it is also a ministry — Bible classes, integrated worldview thinking, Greek, choral music, etc. These subjects mean that it is appropriate for it to be funded by the tithe.
In the Old Testament, the tithe was paid to the Levites, who in turn paid their tithe to the priests and the Temple service. The Levites were given 48 cities, and their responsibility in those cities was teaching. They were responsible to teach the Law, and to teach music, and so forth.
Having said this, a quick distinction should be made here between donations and the tithe. Alumni of some secular school like Harvard might be fond of the old alma mater, and may want to give money to sit on top of the kajillions that they already have, which is certainly lawful — but it wouldn’t be a lawful use of the tithe. The tithe needs to go to kingdom work, not to lawful work. An automotive repair school is lawful work, but shouldn’t be maintained by the tithe.
If a school shifts to a full tuition model, they are saying, in effect, that all of their instruction is to be paid for by tuition, and may not therefore be supported by a tithe. If a Christian opens a successful widget factory, and he runs it as a successful business, and all the employees are Christians, and the sale of the widgets pays for everything, then it would be inappropriate for him to receive any gift that was someone’s tithe offering. It would be fine to receive a gift, but not a tithe gift. It is work in the kingdom, but not kingdom work.
The same kind of thing applies one layer out. One of the reasons our church has a Christian Education Fund is in order to help parents fulfill their basic covenantal obligations in providing a godly education — and this is an appropriate use, by the church, of tithe money that has been given to the church. We are supporting the work of modern day Levites, who are working in conjunction with private teachers who are serving parents who are doing their job. Kingdom work and work in the kingdom is going on side by side.
Now it would be fine for the church to use a Deacon’s Fund for something that has nothing to do with Levitical ministry — remedial dental care, say. But if a school goes to a 100% tuition model, then the almost certain result will be that it has become a high end private school option, and the deacons really ought to be looking for other options that would fulfill the basic obligations, but without the gold plating. So let me address that for a moment.
A financial rule of thumb for ordinary folks is that they ought not to spend more than 28-36 percent of their income on their mortgage. Let’s take a figure on the lower end of that that range, and call it 30%. In Latah County, where I live, the average income is around 35K annually. This means the average mortgage ought to be in the neighborhood of $10,500. Now suppose some of these folks have their four kids in a private classical Christian school, at the astoundingly low rate of 4K a child. That’s is 16K for the batch, and 6K above what they are paying for their house. It also leaves them with 9K for the year to spend on everything else — stuff like food and gas.
And a school that has its tuition as low as 4K is almost certainly functioning on the tuition/donation model. Suppose they went to a full tuition model, and let us say that we try to keep the tuition for their 4 kids at the same level as their mortgage — 30%. If the tuition were raised to 8K per child, then that would be 32K annually. If that is 30% of their income, then their income would have to be around 100K annually.
Now someone with that income is in the top third of American wage earners. And remember that this needs to be the new average income of the average family sending their kids to this school — unless, of course, the parents involved are going with the zeitgeist and have only 1.2 children. But in either case, you have a very different school than the one you started with. You have a school that for two cents more will become a simple prep school. The deacons aren’t going to want to spend tithe money on a Cadillac school, and the average donations of tithe gifts will also dry up, as they ought to.
One other thing, lest anyone think I have given way to the egalitarian snark that likes to envy the rich, and which begrudges wealthy parents the right to educate their children. Not at all. I actually believe that such parents are just as obligated to provide their children with a godly education, and if the cost of living in their town is bumping up against the ceiling, and they need to pay teachers who have to live there too, I have no problem with their tuition being much higher than ours is. I bet their eggs and milk cost more too. In certain wealthy communities, that is the way it has to be.
But most classical and Christian schools are not in that situation, and I believe in many circumstances it is very difficult to strive to get into such a situation without selling your soul.
More on this subject later.