Should We Have to Pay to Play and Pay to Learn?

iVoice Brandi Jeter wonders how she'll afford a good education for her child - and why she should have to pay for one in the first place

Two years ago, when my daughter was born, I had no idea how quickly I’d be worrying about her educational future. From the moment I realized the cost of quality daycare (“Wait, you mean that rate is per week!”), it’s certainly been an eye opening experience.

As a single mother, daycare wasn’t a choice.  It was a necessity.  I have to work full-time, so instead of lamenting the fact that I couldn’t spend all day with my precious baby girl, I researched facilities and ended up registering her at the daycare located at my organization.  The curriculum was fun and age appropriate, the staff was friendly and educated, and the organization was participating in the Keystone Stars program, which measures program quality in daycare centers.

I pay more in daycare fees than I do for rent in order for my daughter to go to a clean, licensed facility with credentialed teachers who have a background in early childhood education.  I don’t own a car, don’t splurge on fancy jewelry or extravagant vacations.  We don’t even have cable anymore.  I’m willing to make these sacrifices though in order for my child to get a good start in education.

Now we’re looking ahead to preschool.  Even on a single income, my family of two doesn’t qualify for the federally funded Head Start program. In order to be eligible for the state’s preschool option, a student has to be at or below the poverty level.  Fortunately, our family is neither.  Unfortunately, we’re not far from it.  So, my daughter will go to private preschool, and I’ll continue to make sacrifices in order to pay.  After that, public school will become an option, and the fees for school will disappear. Except that I’m terrified of having to send my daughter to public school.

I have a lot of cause to be concerned.  Let’s look at my options.  In Philadelphia, budget cuts of over $600 million (and counting) this school year have meant elimination of extracurricular activities, fewer teachers and less services for students (including bus passes, which many students rely on to get to and from school).  Do I send my daughter to this school district where she’ll be in an overcrowded class with a cheaper substitute teacher, and never have the option to play sports, be in the drama club, or write for a school newspaper?

Perhaps I could move to the suburbs, but a recent report shared by the Wall Street Journal determines that middle-class schools aren’t achieving as well as upper-class schools.  No surprise there, but it is a surprise that many lower-income schools are outperforming these schools as well.  Low teacher salaries, higher student–instructor ratios, and less research and attention focused on middle-class schools all contribute to the fact that many of the students that graduate these schools aren’t adequately prepared.

Maybe I could move to one of those upper-class neighborhoods with the high taxes so that my daughter could attend an upper-class school?  Maybe I could consider private school?  Paying for daycare is tough and paying for preschool will be challenging, but paying for school for the next 16 years? That terrifies me.  I hate to think that I’ll have to make decisions about my daughter’s education based on finances rather than the quality of the education she’d receive.  Right now though, unless something changes in the state of education in our nation, I can see this being a very real fact for me.

We always hear that you can’t get anywhere in life without a good education, and I believe that.  I know that as the child of a single mother, some people might believe that my daughter is already starting life out with a deficit.  I can’t fail her with her education.  It’s heartbreaking to think that in the Land of the Free, I might have to pay for school to ensure my daughter’s success.

Brandi Jeter manages out of school time programs at public schools in Philadelphia where she lives with her 2-year-old daughter.  She is an iVoice on iVillage and has a blog, Mama Knows It All.  Follow Brandi on Twitter @mamaknowsitall.


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