The Christian School movement is on life support, at least in the Northeast.  This extended economic downturn has put the final nails in its coffin, and the average Christian family can no longer afford to have their children in a Christian school.  Total enrollment is way down, and even with numerous schools closing, the number of students in the remaining schools is on the wane.  It’s hard to believe that Christian School was ever affordable for the average middle-to-low income family–but it was, and those of us who were around back then remember how it worked.

Disclaimer:  I only worked in 5 Christian Schools, but I visited, observed, and evaluated many more.  Every item on my list of memories may not be true for every school, but every item existed and made the movement viable.

Why were Christian Schools affordable in the ’70’s and 80’s?

  • They used existing facilities–often the church building.  Sunday school rooms became  Monday school rooms, which needed to be torn down every Friday afternoon, and set up after church on Sunday night.
  • They used affordable curriculum.  The ACE and Alpha-Omega workbooks could be bought and used for pennies on the day; and more traditional schools utilized hand-me-downs and used texts whenever available.  One school where I taught was using 40-year-old literature books; they were sturdy, durable, and the core content hadn’t changed.  Other schools had parents buy books, and then sell them to the next group of parents at a discount.  Saxon algebra books were available for free, and didn’t require the purchase of a scientific calculator.
  • They used volunteer personnel.  Every school had at least one principal/headmaster/supervisor on the payroll, and many had a handful of sacrificing teachers; but a LOT of the work was done by parent volunteers.  The lunch program–if there was one–was run by volunteers.  Recess, Phys. Ed., music, art, teacher aid duties, chapels, transportation, and even cleaning and maintenance were provided at no cost by committed parents who know that their involvement was the secret to keeping costs down.  And while many teachers were hired, they were done so at wages far below their public-school counterparts (and willingly so.)
  • They were underwritten by the church.  Christian schools were often owned by a church that picked up major aspects of the expense, and many fundamental churches in the area included the local Christian School in their missionary budget.  It was understood that tuition and fees could not and should not pay the way, and church support and donations often constituted up to 50% of the school’s annual budget.

Often, there were no gyms, music rooms, computers, Smart boards, special ed programs, advanced placement, science labs, or school buses–and yet a generation of students graduated well-versed in the three R’s, and many have gone on to be productive citizens and active church members.  And isn’t that what we want today?

[Of course it is–as long as it comes with a great sports program, exceptional music, state-of-the-art science and computer programs, pre-school and after-school programs, beautiful and well-maintained facilities separate from the church, programs for gifted and talented students as well as the intellectually challenged, the most current curriculum materials, and minimal meddling from the pastor and church board.]

Our motivations for Christan Schools have changed–both for us as parents, and for our churches.   As parents “raised” their expectations, and churches lowered their levels of involvement in the movement, the costs went up substantially and irreversibly.  And don’t blame the home school movement–it didn’t destroy Christian Education.  In many ways, it has been a return to the values of the early, affordable Christian Schools.

I love Christian Schools, and I would be teaching in one today if an opening were to come up.  I just hope that the schools and I both survive the economic downturn long enough to join forces once again in the cause of Christian Education.