Waldorf schools have three primary challenges as they move into the future:
To keep the education vibrant;
To maintain healthy relationships throughout the organization;
To create financial stability through creative relationships to the greater culture
The sustainability of our organizations depends upon how we face these challenges. In the same way that we need to maintain a healthy balance between our body, soul and spirit or our thinking, feeling and willing as individuals, in our organizations we need to find a healthy balance between the education, the community and the culture.
Because financial resilience and sustainability are essential to the future of our schools, we are devoting the April newsletter to this important topic.
In this newsletter you will find several articles on various aspects of financial security and sustainability. We encourage you to read them, share them with your school leaders and add your own comments and ideas in our Forum Section.
Since the beginning of Waldorf education 100 years ago, each school, depending on its size, age and location, has followed its own path to achieve its funding goals. Today, there are three basic methods used by most Waldorf school --– the cultivation of relationships with the business world, the sharing of costs with parents and the alignment with government educational systems.
Each of these paths has its benefits and challenges. For example, in the past decade, it has been harder and harder to get grants, more difficult to attract contributions, and more challenging for parents to pay tuition in the face of an uncertain economic picture.
In light of these challenges, what can Waldorf schools do to develop sustainable funding streams?
First, let’s look at the meaning of sustainability.
The key to sustainability of any organization rests with its capacity to:
- Prepare for and adapt to changes,
- Develop a diverse range of funding sources,
- Create healthy systems and
- Foster a strong enough sense of community.
Through these actions, creativity and mutual support can emerge to meet the financial challenges in rougher times.
The idea of what constitutes organizational sustainability is relatively new and is going through its own evolution. Basically the common definition is the ability to act in the present in ways that do not jeopardize the organization’s capacity to continue in the future. Much discussion about sustainability grew out of the environmental movement of the 1970’s as an attempt to encourage longer term planning and consideration of the environmental impacts of business and government decisions further into the future.
Consideration of the future is at the heart of Rudolf Steiner’s work and especially in the impulse and practice of Waldorf Education. Steiner pointed to the will as the seat of the future and that education should always be focused on the training of the will in the growing human being. Waldorf education was an education created to nurture the capacity for sustainable thinking, feeling and willing in the students. He saw the need for a new generation of people that could grasp sustainability in a new way and bring this into their work in the world for the transformation of humanity and the earth.
In Steiner’s lifetime, sustainable financing of schools did not come to fruition. The closest thing we have today in the US is the practice of tax credits, a system of funding education that puts power in the hands of parents and allows them to send their child to the school of their choice. One of the articles below explores the promise of tax credits and vouchers for education.
Other emerging initiatives similarly allow for funding from the government to flow into independent schools. And while the fight to create these alternatives is stronger than ever and is drawing the attention of anyone serious about transforming education, changes are slow in coming.
In the meantime, as we support these efforts, independent schools are left with less than ideal models for creating funding streams. Another article below explores the work of Gary Lamb and Bob Munson in pioneering ways to make schools “Accessible To All.” Their work is being applied with positive results in many schools in the movement.
There is also a wealth of resources to help school leaders understand creative ways to work with tuition, to educate parents about new social financial ideas and to strengthen development and fundraising work to support the school.
The articles below are intended to give school leaders a better understanding of three fundamental aspects of sustainability:
- Steiner’s insights about funding for schools,
- Ways to get involved in promoting tax credits and vouchers, and
- Ideas for creative approaches for managing current financial situations.
In everything we do in the financial realm we are strengthened by the realization that our success depends on our relationships. This is what truly makes our lives and our organizations sustainable – that we continue to take an interest in one other, be committed to one another’s growth and development and be grateful that we are dependent not only on ourselves, but also on everyone else for our own well being. If that understanding and feeling can pervade all of our work around the financial sustainability of our schools and organizations, then we will have support from unseen places and will be able to grow the kind of communities that will, in spite of the swings of outer culture, be able to sustain themselves.
We are pleased to see that the Waldorf movement continues to explore the potential benefits of voucher schools. We feel that we are in an ideal position to advise and engage on this issue, because we are, as far as we know, one of only two voucher Waldorf schools in the U.S. Tamarack Waldorf School was founded in 1996 with the goal of making Waldorf education available to all who wanted it, and thus the intention to participate from the beginning in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). This program pays for the tuitions of 74% of our 246 students currently and has contributed to our growth into the fourth largest Waldorf elementary school in North America. It also is instrumental in our being able to expand into a high school in the fall of 2014.
The benefits of Choice participation include: diversity of all kinds, including economic, racial, and cultural; economic stability for the school, as the majority of our families do not pay tuition in order to attend Tamarack, creating a base population unlikely to shrink even during tough economic times; and accountability, because we are forced to get our ducks in a row in places where we might have dragged our feet in order to stay eligible for the program.
The drawbacks of Choice participation include: 1. Operating in a highly charged and controversial political situation that causes some of our natural allies (progressive thinkers) to eschew us. We felt the impact of this recently. Our high school team was interested in renting space at a nearby church for our start-up year. The congregation of that church voted not to accept us as renters because of opposition to the Choice program. 2. Governmental intrusion into our operations, with increasing reporting requirements, restrictions around enrollment, and assessment requirements. The annual number of reports we must file with the state continues to increase with this program, and thus requires an especially hearty administrative team to manage. We may only reject a Choice applicant on the basis of income or residency ineligibility. This creates a two-tiered system of enrollment at our school, with private pay students being subjected to different standards than Choice students. Finally, we are required to administer standardized tests to our students, which does not align with our educational philosophy. 3. Unforeseen setbacks. The most difficult one for our school was when the Wisconsin legislature reduced and then froze the tuition amount per student for four years. This created a huge problem for our operating budget.
Because of the controversial nature of the voucher program in our region, and its alignment with conservative politics, and because our families are politically diverse, including a large number of politically progressive individuals, Tamarack works hard to send the message that we are an independent, private, Waldorf school first and foremost. Our Choice participation is an effective means by which we pursue our mission of diversity. We were fortunate in our early years to have the former mayor of Milwaukee, John Norquist, a Democrat, as a supporter (and school parent.) Norquist, now with an urban revitalization group in Chicago, was able to articulate a persuasive argument for Choice from a politically progressive stance. He argued, for example, that the success of European models of funding schools, which include government funding of independent/private schools, is a way of offering legitimate options to their populations. Also, he noted a fairness issue for the most economically poor families. Choice gives them an ability that their middle and upper class cohorts have, which is the chance to explore education alternatives if they desire. Finally, he noted that Choice is a way to encourage true diversity in educational models to meet the diverse kinds of learners and families in Milwaukee.
Tamarack is a shining example of how to capitalize on the strengths of voucher education while protecting the core values of an alternative philosophy and curriculum. We continue to grow and attract diverse families seeking our particular form of education, and to give thoughtful, engaged and academically strong children back to the community.