Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tuition and Assistance

A march and rally organised by the UEA student...

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There’s a growing sense of anxiety within my community about the rising costs associated with parochial school education.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that alternatives don’t exist and that it’s desirable for everyone who wants to have their child attend the school to be able to do so.

Tuition costs have risen pretty consistently over the past few years and with each raise, it becomes an additional financial stretch for an incremental number of families.

Obviously, there are families that have enough means to be able to absorb the impact.

Once you focus on the key issues like driving out inefficiencies, etc., you are left with the question of: how much should those who can afford tuition subsidize those who cannot?

That’s at the heart of our tax code and healthcare (regardless of whether it is gov’t or insurance companies who ‘pay’).

In discussing this recently, one friend of mine was shocked that someone she knew had said, “you should pay your own way and not for anyone else. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it and you have to accept that as a fact of life.”

In my friend’s mind, the community has an obligation to help each other out.

I agreed with her, but still challenged her initial reaction.

“Until what point?” I asked.

“All your friend is saying is that she’s at the line where it doesn’t make sense for her and her family to support others in this respect. You have a line as well. Everyone does. It’s just REALLY uncomfortable to figure out what it is and put a price tag on it.

“If I asked you to pay $500 to help another family, you would do it.

“$5,000? Well, then you might have to think about it.

“$50,000? Then, you’d say no.”

Economics is about the study of choices. It’s not about money. It’s about deciding…would I rather send someone else’s kid to school or take a vacation? (or whatever the alternative is).

And it’s really, really tough to measure those.

But, there’s another side to this equation which came up as the NFO and I were discussing the whole issue of tuition and explaining it to Tonka and Paco.

The question is, for all of us, “once we accept money from the government or our friends, does that mean they get to question us about all of our other decisions?”

My friend, Jose, often complains that he can’t stand when “families who plead poverty and take tuition assistance then turn around and ….(go on vacation, get a new card, re-do their kitchen…whatever)”

Obviously, you can say “don’t judge a man/woman until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes,” but if your charity (and I guess this is the whole ‘welfare queen’ notion of a few years ago) is going to me so that my family has a  a place to sleep or food to eat, that’s one thing.

If it’s so that I can take my kids to the beach for a week, is that another?

I definitely don’t have the answer.

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