Seven Keys to Sustainability, full version

In order for an independent non-profit educational organization to become financially sustainable in a culture and environment that is highly consumer driven, leaders in schools will need to become increasingly creative in how they view and work with finances and the resource landscape (economic) in which they are embedded. Here are seven keys that every leader could consciously consider for their schools as they chart their financial future.

1. Associative Economics

 The idea behind associative economics arose from the work and insights of Rudolf Steiner in 1922 through his work with the first Waldorf School, and in a series of lectures on economics. Steiner’s visionary capacity brought to light a new imagination about economic life and money; that consciousness applied to the nature of transactions in the conduct of financial life would allow us to transform our relationships with each other and with money and provide a new basis for transforming the entire economic system. Understanding this is essential in the development of a school. In the attached articles by Warren Ashe, Siegfried Finser and Werner Glas, authors share important insights on the effect on school finances of seeing tuition in a new light.  Going further, John Bloom in an interview segment from the film The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner, and in his book The Genius of Money, offers insights into the realm of social finance and Steiner’s ideas. Christopher Houghton Budd has numerous publications and research on Associative Economics on his website that goes even deeper into the realm of Associative Economics. And lastly, Gary Lamb offers in his book on Associative Economics, an excellent treatment of the background, history, details and practical applications of Associative Economic thinking for schools. To be familiar with this book and these ideas will help every school leader work with financial matters in a new way.

2. The Intersection of School Finances and School Choice

 Initiatives in the US around School Choice offer a wealth of insights into ways we can support the transformation of educational funding. The School Choice movement imagines a possible future where the social impulse of Waldorf education and its accessibility to more families of all economic levels might be realized. In many countries, independent schools suffer from the fact that the funding for education managed by the government for the public good is often only available for government-run schools. This, of course, is not healthy for the public good or necessary.  It does not support diversity or excellence in education approaches.  What’s more, it leaves those families who would otherwise not choose a government-designed and regulated schooling experience for their children to pay for alternatives on their own. This effectively takes choice away from parents, especially parents who are economically poor.

There are numerous organizations within the US with initiatives to change this by transforming the way government funding supports parental choice through vouchers and tax credits. (In other countries it is different). Every independent school should be aware of these efforts and actively support this movement toward greater choice and a more widely accepted distribution of educational funding to all schools.

AWSNA supported the development of two reports on the realities of school choice, researched and written by Gary Lamb (read). The most recent one is available in our resource collection and is a valuable read for anyone who is considering the long-term financial future of a school. In addition to these good reports, there are a number of groups with valuable information about how to stay informed and involved in these movements. One good resource is the annual report of the Federation for School Choice. (read)

3. Rethinking Tuition

 How we think about tuition, whether it is viewed as a payment, a mandatory contribution or a gift, has a significant effect on the financial relationships in the school and especially on development work and fundraising. The whole avenue of concerted, intentional, and value-driven development work is longing for further evolution. In many schools currently using a tuition-based model for financing their operation, we can find creative ways to think about and manage tuition. The article on Siegfried Finser's talk about tuition as gift money is a good start.  Other excellent work on how to transform the tuition process has come out of the work of Bob Munson and Gary Lamb under the name ATA: Accessible Tuition for All.

While not everyone will be able to implement this process model, understanding the ideas behind it is important for everyone. Bob Munson and Mary Roscoe offer a clear and compelling background about ATA in their Primer. There are a few others experiments with creative tuition models including a three-tier tuition level model in use at the Brooklyn Waldorf School and a shared tuition experiment in UK, shared by Chris Schaefer. All of these are creative attempts to bring social ideals to tuition.

Lastly, if there is a natural antipathy to money and wealth in the school culture, overcoming or transforming that antipathy will be a major step toward sustainability. While this raises all sorts of issues it is the choice that independence brings.

4.  Government Support and Charter Schools’ Work to Reach a Wider Population.

In some countries, the separation between public funding and independent schools is less of an issue that in the US. In Australia and Canada, for instance,  independent schools operate with significant support from the government. The newsletter article by Tracey Puckeridge explores the dynamics of government funding in Australia. One response to the limitations of tuition based funding and being able to reach a more diverse range of socio-economic levels in the US has grown from the movement for public charter schools based on Waldorf education. This movement was founded with a social gesture to overcome financial hurdles for parents. There are now 38 charter schools inspired by Waldorf in 12 states. Their experience in trying to operate a Waldorf inspired school in the government bureaucratic and regulatory environment and lessons they have learned are important.

5. Waldorf Movement Successes to Strengthen Enrollment and Fundraising

 It is generally true that schools with more students have a stronger financial picture and that schools that are more effective at development work and fundraising also feel a reduction in the pressure that high tuitions place on parents. While these two areas, enrollment and fundraising, are important, they alone will not solve the primary financial challenges of schools. Nonetheless, we must do all that we can to increase our success in both areas. There are numerous resources available to help schools strengthen their approaches to fundraising and enrollment. One handbook created by AWSNA is a good starting place on Fundraising. (read) A recently published book on achieving full enrollment by Siegfried Finseris also helpful. Both these topics will be covered more in depth in future newsletters.

6.  The history and challenges of school financing in the Waldorf Movement

It is essential to have an understanding of the history and context for the challenges of funding for Waldorf Education since the beginning. Gary Lamb has collected, in the early chapters of his book, The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, a clear and concise history of the first Waldorf School and its financial life. Werner Glas outlines some of the unique challenges for Waldorf schools in his article from Administrative Explorations, sharing some insights about Steiner’s insights about the Economic life and its relationship to schools.

Social Mission- Ch 2 Founding of first Waldorf School

Social Mission- CH 3 Finances in Early Years

Social MIssion- CH 4 World School Assn

Social Mission- Ch 16 Broad Based Funding for WS

Underlying Themes in the Economics of Waldorf Schools by Werner Glas

7. The Reality of Interdependence

All the resources you need for your school to thrive are already present in your community. The work is to recognize and support the needed capacities, not just in the classroom and across the faculty, but also in the parent body and in others in the local/regional economic community. The economic life, as re-imagined through Steiner’s and other’s insights, can help us to appreciate more and more the value of our relationships and interdependence with each other. Gradually, successful schools are finding new ways to create and nurture partnerships within the school and in the greater community that are based on a commitment to a healthy community and are mutually beneficial.

Seven Keys to Sustainability –Michael Soule, comments and input by John Bloom


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  1. […] In order for an independent non-profit educational organization to become financially sustainable in a culture and environment that is highly consumer driven, leaders in schools will need to become increasingly creative in how they view and work with finances and the resource landscape (economic) in which they are embedded. Here are seven keys that every leader could consciously consider for their schools as they chart their financial future. (For a full version of this article, click here.) […]

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