Dr. Eldersveld is a member of the Southeast Protestant Reformed Church.
Train up a child in the way that he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Our Christian schools are a most precious heritage. Their preservation depends on God’s grace and our obedience to God’s demand that we educate our children in His fear. This is accomplished by our diligent use of the means that God provides, while we heed the sometimes subtle evidence that Satan is at work to destroy our schools.
In late 1988, the Board of Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School appointed a special committee to study gross income and tuition costs since 1957 and to “recommend guidelines for . . . a broader base of support for Protestant Reformed Education.” Their findings may surprise you.
First of all, they found that tuition costs are rising faster than income. In 30 years, tuition costs for three children increased by a factor of more than 13, while gross income increased by a factor of less than 5. In other words, for every $1.00 of increased income, tuition increased by more than $2.50! In 1957, tuition costs were only 7.6% of gross income, but had increased to 20.8% by 1987.
The Hope committee also reviewed the history of non-tuition contributions (gifts, fund drives, church collections, etc.) received by the school and found that their percentage of the cost of education has been steadily declining. For the same 30-year period, gift increases were nearly identical to salary increases but did not keep pace with increases in the cost of education. In 1957, gifts financed almost 50% of the school’s budget, but they financed less than 13% by 1987.
These records indicate that increased tuition costs since 1957 were not due to the increased cost of education alone but were due, in large part, to a significant drop in the level of contributions. If the level of contributions had remained at 50% of the school’s budget, tuition costs would have increased only to 12% of gross income by 1987 rather than to 20.8%.
I believe that the records of Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School are representative of our other Christian schools. At least, they carry a warning that the future of our schools may be financially threatened unless we take action in the present. We must be more diligent in using the means that God has given us to ensure that Christian school education remains affordable.
First of all, it is important that we reaffirm our commitment to Christian education. Because understanding the necessity of Christian education is basic to committing to it, I recommend that you read Prof. Engelsma’s booklet, Reformed Education, for a full explanation of the necessity of Christian education as revealed in the Word of God. I will simply say, that the Christian education of our children is not merely a parental privilege; it is a divine mandate, an essential aspect of the covenant that God has established with His people. Because our Christian schools complement the Christian education given in part by the home and by the church, it follows that the covenant demands that we labor to support and preserve our Christian schools.
Secondly, providing Christian education is not only the responsibility of parents; it is the duty of all members of God’s church. We are reminded of this each time an infant is baptized: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children when come to the years of discretion (whereof you are either parent or witness) instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed, to the utmost of your power.” All (parents and witnesses) must labor to support and preserve the Christian school because it complements the instruction of these children. Single people, young and old, you are included. Couples without children, you are included. Young parents with preschool children, you are included. Parents educating your own children at home, you are included. Parents with school-aged children, though you are currently paying for the Christian education of your own children, you are included. Older parents, though you have paid dearly for the education of your own children, you are included.
Thirdly, God calls us to be good stewards of the gifts that He has given us. Our human nature fights against the truth that the fruits of our labor belong to God and tempts us to be selfish when putting this money to use. Our calling to educate (God’s covenant children in His fear, and our calling to return to God a portion of His gifts, leave us with a profound responsibility to give generously to the Christian schools. Having been a deacon and a school board member, I have witnessed firsthand the tremendous response of God’s people to an immediate financial need. Such a response is needed now by our schools and it must be sustained. This may involve giving up something that we desire but don’t need. Think of something unnecessary that you regularly spend money on and resolve to do without it, giving the money instead to the Christian school.
Finally, if God has blessed us in excess of our needs in this life, good stewardship requires that we properly allocate that surplus in a last will-and-testament to ensure that it is not wasted. Others must not be making these decisions for us – God has made us overseer of these gifts. Serious consideration must be given to including the Christian school(s) in our wills. We should have a will even if we feel that the value of our estate will not be significant. Expensive and unnecessary fees and taxes are incurred when an estate must be settled without a will. This is wasteful. Think of what it would mean to the Christian school(s) to have that money instead. The professional advice of a lawyer and/or accountant may result in significant additional tax savings that could be allocated to the Christian school(s).
After careful study, each school must determine the extent of its need and determine the specific action required to fulfill that need.
Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School has decreased the percentage of its budget that is to be paid by tuition, effectively doubling the amount of non-tuition contributions that must be raised to meet all expenses. The tuition percentage will be decreased by 1% each year until a ratio of 70% tuition to 30% gifts is reached.
Adams Street Protestant Reformed Christian School has focused on establishing a new source of income for the school – a special type of endowment fund. The Adams Street Christian School Foundation, as it is called, will provide supplemental, long-term financial support for the school. The Foundation is legally incorporated in the State of Michigan and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization. Therefore, the Foundation can solicit tax-deductible gifts which, rather than being spent by the school, are retained for investment purposes. Investment earnings are the new source of income for the school. Gifts to the Foundation are not merely contributions, but are permanent investments in Christian education.
In addition to cash, the Foundation can accept other types of gifts such as stocks, bond, mutual funds, land, buildings, personal property, and virtually any other thing of value. Gifts may be immediate or deferred (that is, promised but delivered at some future date) and may be given directly or through special vehicles such as wills, trusts, life insurance policies, annuities, etc. so as not to interfere with other fundraising efforts for the school (which the school’s budget is currently dependent upon), the Foundation is presently concentrating its efforts toward non-cash gifts and deferred gifts. The business of the Foundation (including control of disbursements to the school) is governed by a seven-member Board of Trustees, separate from the School Board. An exception to the control exercised by the Board of Trustees is that contributors to the Foundation may designate how their gifts are to be used.
Though operating independently, the Foundation and its Trustees are accountable for their actions at several different levels: to the Internal Revenue Service by virtue of the Foundation’s tax-exempt status, to the Adams Street Christian School Board via reports of annual audits by an outside party, and to its constituency by means of regular newsletters. The Foundation works personally with prospective contributors and gives general assistance in the way of suggesting possible methods of giving. When necessary, the Foundation makes referrals to Christian attorneys and accountants who have experience with charitable foundations.
South Holland Protestant Reformed Christian School has established an Endowment Fund to control tuition costs. Though still in its infancy, this Fund has demonstrated the potential of the Foundation/Endowment Fund concept: it disbursed $7,500 of income from investments to the school this year, and the principal is still earning income for next year.
With foresight, commitment, stewardship, and God’s blessing, the heritage of our Christian schools will be preserved for our posterity.