Waldorf Education - One family's story

Money ~ Parental Contributions


When we first joined the school it was financed in an unusual way. Parents contributed what they felt they could afford and teachers took what they needed to live on. An amount was suggested, but the final contribution was left to the parents. In fact we were assured that no child would ever be turned away for financial reasons alone. This appealed to my idealism. I had always been a confirmed socialist and I believed this to be based on Steiner's own ideas.
This point about children never being turned away for financial reasons alone appeared to be part of the school's basic philosophy. I remember two of the teachers coming to give a talk to the local National Childbirth Trust, of which I was also a member. One of the mothers there actually asked
"What if a parent could not afford to pay anything at all?"
The teacher was very definite in her answer,
"No child wil ever be turned away for financial reasons alone."
The thing is, it worked, and there was a real sense of community. Everything was done together by parents, teachers and their families. We had arrived at the beginning of the school's second year. During the holidays a portacabin had been placed at the back of the original village school building to house the Kindergarten. The school itself consisted of one large, tall classroom and one small one. The following summer my husband helped to convert the old school building by putting in a staircase and two upstairs classsrooms. Later a large barn next door was puchased and converted gradually into many classsrooms and a new school office.


At the beginning the school was far from ideal. The facilities were basic and sometimes the parents had to take over when teachers were ill. But the sense of community was wonderful. No one was turned away even though many people were on benefits and low incomes and were unable to contribute a great deal financially.
Despite all of this there did come a time when we were finding things difficult financially. I was concerned that at sometime in the future I may not be able to contribute the suggested minimum. At that time my daughter was not yet five. I spoke one day to a representative of the finance group and said I was considering moving her to a state school. She asked why and I explained. She was most emphatic that I should not leave for financial reasons if I was happy with everything else.

It's difficult to pinpoint when things began to change. It was probably inevitable that some sort of fixed fee system would be introduced. It was difficult for the school to keep teachers on the low wages they were able to offer. They tried to solve it by attracting more higher income families, but higher income families wanted a school with better facilities. So the unending round of increasing fees to pay for higher wages, and improvements in the school began.
We were assured, at first, that those of us who had joined the school in the early days could have special financial arrangements made if we were in difficulty. Later we were all sent letters explaining the new sytem of a sliding scale of fees. Those on the lowest incomes would pay at the lowest level, but if there were any problems were were to discuss them with the finance group. This we did and were told that the older families in poor circumstances would still be allowed to pay below the minimum.
A year or two after this we were told that we had to pay the minimum rate. We managed for a while but them accumulated some arreas. We were told not to worry, we could pay these off whenever we could afford to. On one occasion it was clearly stated that we would be able to clear any remaining arreas after we left the school. It seemed to us that what they were saying was,  'We can't be seen to allow you to pay less, but we will allow you to accumulate arreas instead.' From time to time we were asked to do cleaning work at the school and this was set against the arreas. Usually this involved cleaning the school toilets. The whole thing seemed to work very well for both parties, since the school had a ready pool of labour for the less pleasant jobs among the parents who were in arreas.
Although we continued to accumulate some arreas over the following few years we were given very clear messages that the school would prefer us to stay. For one thing, the school was still not full, so if we left they would actually lose money since there were no children waiting for our children's places. It was even said at one point that our continuing to pay off our arreas after we left would provide an extra income for the school in the future.
 Unfortunately, the fact that we were in debt to the school made it very difficult for us to make a complaint to them when things began to go wrong.