Free Public Education

As the economy sinks and taxes are on the rise, millions are people around the world are wondering if their taxes are well spent on public education. April 15 is right around the corner, and many of us will be cutting a new check to Uncle Sam. But what has Uncle Sam done for us lately?

During tax time, local TV news anchors will battle to find the most knowledgeable certified accountants. Hundreds of magazines and newspapers will feature headlines that proclaim "Top 10 Tips to Reduce Your Taxes" or "17 Wiley Write-Offs." And millions of Americans will pore over illegible receipts, desperately seeking just one more deduction.

Our Schools are Vital

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_mcmt/187428751/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_mcmt/187428751/

Free Public Education

But it makes me wonder: Do we realize the beauty of public taxes? In particular, do they appreciate the ultimate tax bargain: Our public education system?

Remember that public education is a relatively new concept. Several hundred years ago, public schools were only open when the students were not tied up on the farm. Many children were unable to attend because of their duties at home. Even those who could attend school were sent to a small one-room school house, which kept all ages and grades in one room.

But times have changed and so have schools. We now have very sophisticated school systems, where children are separated according to age, grade, and their level of knowledge. Instead of small slates for writing, children have computers and even the Amazon Kindle. Times have changed.

Cost Analysis

Over the last few months, I have learned to appreciate this often oft-neglected gift from our government. I've conducted a cost-analysis, scrutinized the potential costs involved, and determined the approximate dollar value of this wonderful benefit. The bottom line is that Uncle Sam is footing the bill for my child's education. And I am extremely grateful.

180 Days

To determine my actual savings, I analyzed the most costly benefits of public education; then I divided them into categories; and figured the street price of these assets. For my calculations, I assumed that the average student attends school 180 days a year. Once I included holidays and snow days, I determined that the typical school year lasts 43 weeks, or 10 months.

During these 180 days, the students receive numerous benefits ranging from free public transportation to musical lessons. While many of these benefits are expected, they should not be taken for granted. These are valuable services that the government must subsidize. These are our tax dollars at work---or literally---our tax dollars at school.

The School Bus

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kamoteus/2371317922/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kamoteus/2371317922/

Transportation Service

Luxury limousine service: Okay, some of you might call this form of transportation the county school bus. I have personally dubbed it, "The big yellow monster." But whatever you call it, you must appreciate the convenient corner-to-door service.

While I am still lounging around in my robe and slippers waiting for the caffeine to kick in, I can watch my children saunter to the bus stop. Their personal chauffeur (otherwise known as the bus driver) will drive right to their feet, personally open the door for them, and usher them safely inside.

Under his watchful eye, my young progeny are carefully escorted to their seats and driven to their destination. The routine is repeated at the end of each day. If my child were to ride the local public bus service, the monthly pass would cost $22 per child, per month.

Annual savings: $440.

Books

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ckaroli/1688897198/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ckaroli/1688897198/

Curriculum Benefits

Curriculum cost: Believe it or not, the cost of curriculum is pretty steep. Educational textbooks are quite expensive. In fact, the hardcover math book used at our local elementary school retails for $66---for one book! As a homeschool mother for five years, I sought every inexpensive source for quality curriculum. While there are many cheaper solutions, it was apparent that a quality program was the most desirable. Setting those two extremes aside, I based my research on the curriculum used by the local schools. Adding the books, supplies, and other necessary materials together, the complete package costs about $650 a year per child. Since I send my kids to public school, I pay the nice-price for similar materials: $0. Annual savings: $1300.

Personal Athletic Coach

As you well know, we all have exceptionally talented children who deserve their own personal athletic coaches. Until recently, my young daughter trained at a high level gymnastics club, while my son received personal training in various sports activities such as baseball and soccer. Even basic art and music classes come at a premium. It's hard to find a quality tutor that costs less than $10 a session. However, public school offers an incredible advantage at this level, too. Every single week, each of my children receives 2 gym classes, 2 general music classes, and 2 hands-on art classes. Assuming that I save $10 a session, I can now pocket a considerable amount of loose change. Annual savings: $5160.

The Trumpet

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oddsock/208182067/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oddsock/208182067/

Personal Instrumental Lessons

When many American schoolchildren reach fourth grade, a new element comes into play: the musical instrument. Now this may seem a little extraneous, as we still must incur the cost of the instrument itself, but we would have to do that anyway. I have personally contacted several music stores in the area, and I discovered (with shock) that the average cost of a half-hour lesson is $25. When I finally managed to lift my jaw from the floor, I realized what a great bargain I was receiving. So what's the cost at public school? You guessed it: nothing, nada, zilch. Now that's not just a bargain, that's a steal! Even with only one child playing the instrument once a week, my bank account has grown considerably. Annual savings: $1075.

Field Trip Costs

While many public schools now charge a small fee for field trips, most of them are still subsidized by the school. This month alone, my son has attended three small field trips, which cost me absolutely nothing. However, the school incurred the cost of bus transportation, school administrative salaries, and entrance fees. I compared this to the average yearly cost of similar field trips for homeschooling families. Annual savings: $223.

Children Love to Play

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pfly/399346124/
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pfly/399346124/

Free Child Care

Let's not forget the most important asset in this entire equation, the school teacher. I have been blessed with loving individuals who care for my children five days a week. These ladies and men have devoted their entire career to the care and nurturing of young children who aren't even related to them. As an added bonus, they teach all of the educational essentials, basic manners, and social graces.

My children have been received much more than a quality education, they have received the love and support of a role model. However, I must digress, since this discussion is about the cash. Full time child care is not inexpensive; the weekly fees average $175 per child.

Annual savings: $15050.

Hot Cooked Meals

Americans have become addicted to warm, not-so-healthy food choices. And American children are no exception. Given the opportunity, most of our young children would prefer a hot overpriced fast-food meal, laden with calories and fat. However, our public school system has given them an acceptable alternative: the cafeteria lunch. Now, the fact is that the cafeteria lunch has been given a bad rap. (Honestly, when I step into the lunchroom, my nose automatically turns, and my stomach feels queasy. But that has more to do with childhood memories than the actual food.) In fact, school lunches are not only pretty nutritious these days, but they don't look so bad either. Plus, they're a great deal. Assuming that two children purchase lunch every day at the cafeteria ($1.75 each) rather than a fast-food joint ($2.99 each), they would save a considerable amount. Annual savings: over $446.

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Additional Savings

While there are many other costs to the public school system, it would be crazy to calculate their costs here. There are computer programs, computer hardware, scientific equipment, musical equipment, copiers, and office equipment. None of these can really be fairly broken down into the cost per child. So for these equations, they were simply not included.

The Bottom Line

While the quality of the school system may be up for debate, it's still the best bargain in town for educating your child. Adding all these benefits together, you can clearly see that I've saved a considerable amount of money by using the public education system.

For publicly educating my two children for one year, I have saved a whopping $23,694. That amount will certainly pay for any additional tutors!

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