Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Financial Stewardship and Planning for 2019-20: Tuition, Fees, Income and Other Things

The gospel is the center of all we do at Midwestern Christian Academy.  We are a school that exists to train students to think and act according to a Biblically based worldview that comes about as a result of their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  

Being Christ-centered and Biblically focused in the education that we offer is our most important core value.  It is why Midwestern Christian Academy exists and it is what distinguishes us and our fellow Christian schools from all other forms of education, whether they are tax supported or privately funded.  

In a Christian school, we are not offering a service in exchange for a fee.  Yes, parents do pay tuition and fees for their children to be enrolled here but what parents pay does not cover the cost of operating the school, nor does it "pay for" their own child's education.  An education has a "value" associated with it that is a calculation of the actual cost incurred in order to provide it and that cost varies with circumstances.

In Illinois, the average cost of a year of education in the public school system, rounded off, comes out to $13,500 per pupil.  Across the country, that figure is higher, about $15,900 per pupil . Charter schools in Illinois average $12,800 and nationally, $13,560*.  Most of that funding comes from the taxpayers, including those who send their children elsewhere.  So the cost to parents is spread out across all of the taxpaying entities in the community and is much lower per family.  But the cost per pupil establishes the value of an education in the public school system.

In private schools, the amount paid by parents goes up, but the cost per pupil is right in the same ball park.  In the Chicagoland area, an average private school tuition would be $14,000.  There is a broad range from school to school, from a low of $4,000 to a high of $38,000 as each school values its product differently.  Some of that has to do with the whole scope of expenses that each school has, and the resources that it has to cover them.  Secular private schools often use the cost as a means of excluding students that they don't want.  Catholic schools often subsidize the cost at each of their schools by money coming from the local diocese that reduces tuition cost for Catholic church members.

We calculate the value of the education we offer by comparing our tuition and fees to that of other private schools in our part of the city and by the actual cost of school operation.  If our parents had to pay the full cost of a year of education at MCA, the cost would be $8855.14.  That's an exact figure based on the use of a calculator to determine actual costs vs. "in kind" expenses and income.  Here's how we came to that figure.

Sponsoring Church Support
First of all, much of the expense of school operation is paid by support from the school's sponsoring church, Midwest Bible Church.  MCA is one of two extension discipleship ministries of the church, so the financial support from the congregation helps reduce the tuition parents have to pay by a significant amount.  Actual financial support from the church was $136,000 in 2018-19 which includes a regular budget contribution and some expenses which the church opted to cover on behalf of the school.  In addition to this amount, we calculate the rental value of the facility that the school uses at $74,000.  That is well below the market rate in our neighborhood.  We estimate that the church's support for the school is worth approximately $1,272.72 per student per year.  What that means is that if the school had to finance those expenses, the tuition would have to be higher by that amount in order to pay the bills and keep the school operating.

This does not include the financing provided by the church for the building renovations this past summer.  The church financed the whole project, which came in at over $350,000.  None of that money came from school funds.  I've been in Christian school ministry for over 30 years and I can tell you that it is rare to find a conservative Evangelical Christian church that will invest that much money in Christian school education.

Faculty and Staff Ministry Commitment
In order to teach or work here, our staff must realize that MCA is a ministry and be committed to serving as one who is called by God.  The difference between a teacher salary at MCA and one in the public school system at the bottom of the scale is $19,000 per year.  If MCA paid its teachers the base salary scale of the local public school system, it would cost parents an additional $1,910.00 per student in tuition each year.  So if it were not for the support of Midwest Bible Church, the school's graduates and former students and the sacrifices made by its teachers, the tuition would be almost $3,200 per student per year higher than it is now. 

Our teachers are required to have the same credentials as those in the public school system and most of our teachers have achieved a level of training well beyond the minimum requirements.  The evidence of their qualifications shows up in the academic achievement of our students who perform well above their public school peers on standardized test measurements as well as their counterparts in other private, religious-based schools in the city.  But the primary expected outcome of our students is that they be prepared for "kingdom citizenship" in Christ's church.  The record of our alumni in this regard is proof of the success of the ministry of the school's teaching staff as ministers of the gospel of Christ.

MCA is committed to providing an educational choice for parents that is distinctively Christian in both the content of the curriculum and the operation of the school.  It is a genuine "covenant" relationship that involves shared sacrifice made to cover the school's expenses between those who are employed by the school and the parents. 

Budget Considerations
Since this is a partnership involving shared sacrifice, when we are involved in planning our budget and setting tuition rates, we work to make the amount parents have to pay as reasonable as possible.  Operating a school is not a "cheap" proposition.  No one makes any money out of this arrangement.  The school, because it is a not-for-profit organization must budget to make sure that at the end of its calendar year, there are only minimal funds available for remaining expenses and no "profit" is made.  The church does not receive any funds for the school.

Our largest single expense is the payroll.  Staffing expenses constitute about 75% of our budget.  This includes salaries and benefits for teachers and staff, support staff, professional development and training for teachers and equipping and supplying the classroom.  Textbooks, student supplies and things like the copy machine lease are about 8% of our budget.  Maintaining and cleaning the building and paying the utility bill accounts for another 8%.  All other expenses involved in operating the school, including things from professional memberships, accreditation expenses, promotion, events and licenses are 5% of the budget.

Tuition increases are causes by a couple of items in the budget.  One is textbooks and supplies.  It costs more than $200 to provide one kindergarten student with all of the books they will need for their learning experience.  If the price of those materials goes up, tuition has to be budgeted to cover the increase.  And the only way we have to give our teachers a raise is to increase tuition to cover the difference.

What You Get at Midwestern Christian Academy
There's no question that a Christian school gives you "your money's worth."  We strive for excellence in all we do.  We are the only place where you can get a Christ-centered, Biblically-aligned, distinctively Christian education.  Our academic achievement is a by-product of our commitment to Christ, not the other way around and we are careful not to use academic achievement as a means of excluding students.  On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that our students exceed the expected outcomes of the public school system by a wide margin.

MCA is a candidate for accreditation in 2020.  Accreditation is an evaluation of the school and the education that it provides based on an accepted set of standards of excellence.  MCA has maintained its candidate status for two years, meeting all of the requirements.  Accreditation is a mark of excellence and will involve a peer evaluation of the school's performance by a visiting team of educators.  Accredited schools are excellent schools and excellent schools seek accreditation.

Reports we are getting back from our students in high schools around the city demonstrate that the foundation they received at MCA is strong. 

I believe God blesses us when our mutual sacrifices are put together to accomplish a kingdom objective to lead students to Christ and to an understanding of how to live, work and make life decisions from a Christian world view guided by the Bible.  We have a genuine "ministry" taking place and God is glorified by that.

For 2019-20
The administration and board has prepared a fee schedule that includes a decrease in the enrollment fee from $300 to $250, no increase in tuition for Pre-K, and only a small increase in tuition for students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade.  The $250 registration fee is available until March 31, which is a $100 discount off the regular rate of $350.  We rolled the building use fee into the monthly tuition payment so parents will not have to pay it all in one month, included the cost of books in tuition and came up with an annual tuition fee of $5,000 for 2019-20, which, when you subtract the building use fee, is only a $100 or $10 a month increase. 

We will also have some additional financial aid available on a first-come first-served basis.  This is income based assistance.  In order to qualify, you must re-enroll for the 2019-20 school year with the $250 registration fee paid by March 31.  We do not anticipate that any funds will be available after that date. 

We hope that you consider taking advantage of the early fee discount and re-enroll your child at MCA before March 31 for the coming school year.