So let us continue a bit more on the funding of classical Christian schools. We are moving into the second generation of ACCS schools and, believe it or not, our biggest challenge in that second generation is going to be Mammon.
This might be hard to believe because we are living in the seventh year of Obama’s skinny cow, and no Joseph in sight. In addition, many of our schools are still in the start-up throes, and the pending obligation of each payroll is yet another adventure in faith. So where do I get off saying that our next biggest challenge is going to be the temptation to turn your school into Mammon Academy?
First, this is the way the devil works. He tries to destroy you first with failure, and if that doesn’t work, he pulls out his big gun, which is to destroy you with success. So every school that survives past the presence of their founders will face this challenge — because this is how the world works. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who had seen the great works of the Lord (Judg. 2:7).
Second, living in community it is always easy to see what other people ought to be doing. Do parents need to “buy in” to the idea of Christian education, to the point of sacrifice? Yes, they do. But the way to motivate people to sacrifice is not to demand that they do so, but rather to show them how. The school itself should be a standing model of that sacrifice.
If you jack tuition up for the sake of showing parents how to sacrifice, what you will actually get is a bunch of parents for whom high tuition payments are not a sacrifice, and you will have turned your school into a rich kids’ academy. You will have a glorious building, and it will attract parents whose first priority is a toney building, and whose fifth priority, when it can be found, is a rigorous Christian worldview for their kids.
Third, it takes great wisdom — more than we usually have — to grasp the lesson of unintended consequences. We have our intended consequences, and so we raise tuition in order to raise revenue. We do so, and revenue goes down because we have started to price ourselves out of the market. But almost never will those who suggested raising tuition to raise revenue propose lowering tuition in order to raise revenue. This is the Laffer curve applied in the private sector. If the tax rate were raised to one hundred percent, tax revenue would be zero. Lowering the tax rate would therefore cause an increase in revenue. In the private sector, would you rather sell a thousand units with a three dollar profit on each one, or one unit with a five thousand dollar profit on that sale, provided you sell it, which you probably won’t?
And last, a godly education costs a certain amount — objectively — to deliver. That cost for most schools is covered from three sources — the parents, the teachers, and the patrons. The parents pay tuition, the teachers accept a lower salary than what they could get in the government school, and the patrons write checks and buy things at annual auctions.
When a school goes to the one hundred percent tuition model, then the cost is moved from three sources to one — it will now be borne by the parents. But if you move the costs from three sources to one, I don’t believe that would be possible to do without changing the nature of the entire enterprise. Not only will you get a different class of parents, you will also get a different caliber of teacher, motivated differently. You will get a different kind of patron, as in nonexistent.
So if I were in a position to dispense millions, and I was thinking of endowing a school, I would not give a gift that would take the tuition down to zero. That would create a parental culture of entitlement and freeloading. The parents need to pay tuition as a pay of taking ownership and responsibility. But neither would I endow the teachers’ fund to an extent that would tempt them to start teaching for different reasons. The entitlement mentality is slippery, and can creep in anywhere.
If I were in a position to support classical Christian education with millions, I would certainly do so. But when God gives us Mammon — unrighteous Mammon, as Jesus called it — He prints His instructions for us on the side of it. Unfortunately, it is on the side of a lit stick of dynamite, which makes it hard for us to concentrate on our reading.
The gift would have to be given in all wisdom, which means that it would have to be configured in such a way as not to lead to the destructiveness of success.