The cost of a “free” education

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The mission of public schools is to provide “a free, tax-supported, school controlled by a local government authority.” While the idea of “free” is complicated by the fact that our parents pay taxes, attending a public school is supposed to be cost-free, whereas attending a school like Loyola Academy costs $13,725 per year. With news of student fees surfacing on our front page and in the Chicago Tribune, we ask, is New Trier really free?
Simply, no. The cost of attending New Trier is quite high for a public school. Last year, superintendent Linda Yonke told TribLocal that students pay an average of $650 per school year to cover books, school supplies, and student fees. Yonke indicated that the student fees amount to about half of the $650. While this isn’t the $14,000 our rival Ramblers are paying, it is surely surprising that our supposedly “free” education costs this much.
We are paying for everything we do at New Trier. That KW class you really want to drop but can’t? You’re paying for it. Those class projects that Moira hates so much? Yes, you guessed it, you’re paying for it. And just in case you weren’t sure, you are also paying for the athletics program and extracurricular programs, even if you aren’t involved in either.
Most students aren’t aware of this, and most parents write that check or swipe that credit card each year understanding that the education their child is receiving is worth it. Don’t get us wrong, we do believe these fees are necessary in maintaining the top tier educational environment that New Trier offers. After all, extra things not paid for by property taxes like Student Accident Insurance, Social Studies Publications, and Class Projects and Activities are essential to New Trier inside and outside the classroom and need to be paid for somehow. New Trier offers over 150 clubs, and funding for these clubs doesn’t just appear from nothing.
We have accepted that a school of this caliber cannot be absolutely cost-free. We need books and textbooks and having the school lend them out to students, similar to that of the procedure in Chicago Public Schools, just wouldn’t be as effective. And things like clay, the ink for this newspaper, and paper costs can’t all be covered in property taxes, which, according to district budget reports, will amount to $75,526,820 solely for educational purposes in 2013, $17,983 per student.
Nonetheless, this is a public school and there needs to be a limit. Charging students an average of $300 per year for fours years adds up to $1200 per child in high school. This may not seem like a lot in the long run or in comparison to a private school, but not every student at New Trier fits the popular stereotype: extremely wealthy. And recently, the New Trier School Board discussed charging athletes for participation in varsity sports. While this makes sense considering the costs of using the facilities, equipment, and coaching, high school sports are the only way students can play a sport at a high level without paying club fees in the thousands. How much can we be charged to attend a public school before we say enough?
The administration and school board need to look at the definition of public school again: “a free, tax-supported, school controlled by a local government authority.” Consider why students choose New Trier over Loyola. Ask yourself what happens when student fees become equal to tuition.

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