Free College!

Excuse me while I put away all of the promotional materials and meeting notes from our local school district’s recent levy campaign—asking voters to raise their taxes just so we could fill-in-the-gaps of the “basic” K-12 education in our small rural school. 

This is a process that will be repeated in another four years.

Here in America we offer every child a “free” education. Visit an affluent school district (say, Mercer Island near Seattle), and then visit our classrooms out here in the country and you’ll note some disparaging differences in what can be offered. Obviously where money congregates, students get more goodies, but I digress. 

Here’s the point: until we can truly offer every American student what we promised, let’s not get hyped up about offering free college.

Most school districts cobble together a budget with a combination of state and federal money—and if the words “strings attached” could ever be more appropriately used, it would be with the dollars that come from state and federal sources. 

But it’s not quite enough money. Nope.

The hole left in the school district budget must be filled with community dollars. Some argue that this gives us some leverage in what we want to see in our local schools, yada, yada, yada.

But attend a school board meeting and unless they are talking about a hot-button topic, no one but the board and administration are there. So much for community input.

Until levy time. Then you’ll be able to read derogatory letters to the editor about the schools, the teachers, the administration, and the “lack” of quality education. 

When a levy fails, schools limp along, cutting back programs and building maintenance until the voters will say “yes”. 

It’s not that I don’t like volunteering to be on levy campaigns, but I’d rather donate that time differently—like actually helping students with their studies. 

So, when I hear free college as a vote-getting idea in the upcoming presidential election, I wonder first of all, if the taxpayers are really prepared for that expenditure (and yes, it will come down to all of us), and second, if the state and federal government can’t figure out how to FULLY pay for our K-12 schools how will they handle a commitment to pay for a student’s college? 

Answer: they won’t.

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