How Schools Get Money
|October 29, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
How Schools Get Money
A letter to my son Eli, his First grade class at Monroe Elementary School, and lots of first graders in lots of schools.
A few weeks ago, Eli came home with instructions for his school’s fund raiser. Kids were supposed to sell things from a catalog, and they would get prizes. The more things they sold, the nicer prize they would get.
I have to say, I looked at the sheet of prizes, and none of them seemed all that nice to me. The very best ones were:
- a cool-looking purple phone with a lava lamp on it
- an electronic chess game
- a CD home music system (boom box)
- an air hockey game set
To get these “most excellent” prizes, kids have to sell ninety — nine-zero — things from the catalog! That’s a lot of work. For a more reasonable level of work, like, maybe, selling eighteen items, kids can win:
- a glow in the dark bouncey ball
- twenty-five twisty balloons with a mini air pump
- a neon bubble light stick
Y’know: the kind of stuff you might talk your mom into buying at the supermarket.
Eli was upset that his Dad and Mom didn’t want to take part in this activity. He thought we didn’t want the school to get money, and he didn’t want to be one of the few kids who didn’t earn any prizes. So here’s what we decided to do: We will send the school twenty dollars, and we will get Eli his own prize. He chose the calculator pen — but, since you can win that for selling only eight items, I’d feel bad about getting him something so cheap. He might end up getting something nicer. Eli felt better about the solution we came up with. But I won’t feel better about it until I explain to Eli, and lots of other kids, why I believed this fund raiser was such a bad thing.
You see, schools are for teaching, or at least, they’re supposed to be. I could have said that schools are for learning — but that wouldn’t really be true, would it? Kids learn wherever they are. They can’t help learning. It’s what they do. They learn all the time, without trying to, or even knowing it. But, everybody leads busy lives these days, and many kids end up spending a lot of time in school — so, school is the place where kids are going to do a lot of their learning.
While we’re talking about learning, we really should understand that there’s more to learning than reading and math. I mean, good grief! Computers can read and do math, and computers are stupid. And I’m pleased to report that Eli, like most of his friends, is not stupid. But the most important learning that goes on is the weird, complicated stuff about how people get along together, how they accomplish their work, how they figure out what to do when they don’t agree. Y’know: the real stuff.
So let’s think, for a minute, about what the school is teaching with this fund raiser, and what the kids are learning from it. It seems to me that the school is teaching these things:
- that the school doesn’t have enough money to do its job; it’s got to get more money somehow
- that it is the kids’ job to get the school more money when it needs it
- that parents, friends and neighbors should buy goofy stuff out of a catalog, even if they don’t want the stuff, to help kids raise money for their school, because the school needs money
Wow. I think there is something very wrong with that lesson.
I’m not saying that schools aren’t a little short of money sometimes. Teachers work very hard, and they do important work, but they don’t get paid nearly as much as lawyers or doctors. But whose job is it to get more money for schools? It sure isn’t the kids’ job! The kids’ job is to learn, and play, discover things, and be kids! That’s the kids’ job. It is the parents’ job to make sure the school has enough money to do its work properly. But, the parents are very busy doing parent things like raising kids and making a living. So, parents let their government make decisions about how to pay for schools. But! If the government makes bad decisions about important things like this, parents can vote them out, get a new government, and start over. I hope all you parents out there remember this!
OK, so how do we raise money for schools? Well, here’s how it’s supposed to work:
Everybody has to live somewhere. And everybody needs a place to work, to make a living. But the land — you know, places on the earth — belongs to everybody. So, when we need a place to work, or a place to live, we ought to pay to the government — to everybody — what it costs to use that place. That money would be used to run our schools and other important things that we need.
But I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t really work like that — not yet, anyway. It occurred to people that there was only so much land, and everybody needed some, to work on and to live on. So, some folks took control of land, saying “I own it.” They demanded that people who want to work, or to live, pay them to get some land to live on or work on. Then, to get money for schools and other important things that we need, our governments had to take away some of what we work for, or some of the houses we build to live in.
People don’t like to give up what they have worked for or built. That’s why schools don’t have enough money, and that’s why they ask kids like you to sell people goofy stuff they don’t need, to win cheap prizes, to get your schools a little bit more money.
That seems like a lot to think about, I know. And I’m sorry about that. Like I said, I don’t really think it’s your job to think about things like this — not yet, anyway. But, the school made us think about it, by asking us to take part in this idiotic fund raiser.
We chose not to do that. But it doesn’t mean we’re not proud of our school! And it sure doesn’t mean we’re not proud of Eli: he’s the best. I just don’t want to see him waste his time on goofy stuff.
Lindy (Eli’s Dad)
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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