‘Christian’ Schools bankrupting families

An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today, Schools move to bankrupt parents, describing how many private schools are chasing families for large amounts of unpaid school fees, no doubt due to fallout from the Global Economic Crisis (GFC). Some of these schools are Christian schools from various denominations – Protestant, Catholic, and non-denominational. They have every legal right to pursue families for unpaid fees.

For those schools that call themselves ‘Christian’, who market themselves as places which teach children Christian values and ways – is there any kind of moral dilemma here? As Christians, we aren’t supposed to take each other to court , though some ‘Christians’ may have tried to take advantage of that, and behaved unethically while expecting no legal comeback. Admittedly, this isn’t Christians taking one another to court – it is organisations that claim to be Christian, taking families to court, who may or may not be Christian. But it does raise the issue.

Some of the fees owed seem to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’ve been allowed to mount up because it has been deemed to be in the interests of the children for them not to change schools. Is it really in the kid’s interests to let fees mount up to a level that is impossible for a family to repay without selling their house? Particularly assuming that the school’s intention was to sue if it got to a certain level?

Can schools which behave this way – and there seem to be a lot of them – really be regarded as places where children will be taught Christian values?

1 Cor 6:7-8

7-8These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.

(The Message)

Read the original article here.

11 thoughts on “‘Christian’ Schools bankrupting families

  1. Very interesting questions RP.

    I think that many times the reason for letting children keep attending the school (and therefore running up debt) is that the State and Federal governments provide grants based on the number of students enrolled at the school. By letting the child attend for the year even though the parents are not paying, the school will get the grant and can then later sue or put liens over the parent’s house to recover the money. If they were to expel the student they would lose both the grant and the fees.

    The grants are based on the socio-economic status of the students. Each student’s home address is given a socio-economic score (based on some assessment of the worth of the houses in that street) – and the lower the socio-economic score the higher the grant. So it can be more financially advantageous for a school to keep a student from a poorer area enrolled even after they stop paying their fees. Some of these families will be the most vulnerable if they run up large debts to the school.

    I have seen Christian schools poach students from other Christian schools with offers of part-scholarships, in order to access the associated grants.

    These decisions are logical from a purely financial point of view, but they are dubious at best from a moral point of view. I do wonder if they have a corrupting influence on the values expressed in the school and the values that ultimately are transmitted.

  2. Don’t confuse whether a scbool is ‘Christian’, because it is ‘Christian’.

    Most of the elite schools have a religious heritage and affiliation.

    My daughter goes to an elite Anglican school on a scholarship.

    There is a permanent high Anglican presence there.

    The hymns are great but the teaching on the ‘religious’ is very watery.

    On the other hand my boys (and daughter at first) went in high school to a newish Baptist college, and an independent primary school.

    In those schools the Christian element was much more ‘present’ if I can put it that way.

    I guess neither has anything to do with a schools administrative approach to overdue fees.

    My experience has not been that schools have pursued people in that way. The bills would certainly not have got that high, and if no joy at worst the kids would be asked to leave or they would just suffer the bill.

    I tried to read the article by the way, but couldn’t get access.

    I guess an issue is whether the action undertaken by these schools is seen as Christian or just normal business practice.

    As always mud sticks.

    But $100s of thousands of $$$$$?

    How??? Unless they were borders at elite schools?

  3. Give it 20 years it’ll be as bad as in the UK.

    My Kids, in state education in the UK, are taught more about Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and other minority faiths than Christianity.

    I can’t understand why we even bother going through the hypocrisy of a regular daily ‘Christian’ worship time in School.

    Should schools take parents to court for unpaid fees?
    Absolutely. The bottom line is, if you are a Christian and you owe someone money to whom it belongs, that is stealing according to Jesus. Of course so many of us are behind in payments on our Credit Cards that we are stealing too.

    I feel sorry for parents who have lost jobs or whatever, but if financial circumstances change overnight then you have to be sensible and change your lifestyle. If you are already maxed out on your credit card etc and have no flexibility then who’s to blame?

    The private schools have salaries to pay, bills to pay, maybe shareholders to pay dividends to? All legal and financial obligations must be met by everyone.

    Besides, taking someone to court isn’t a cheap option is it? If one party won’t play ball, what does the other party do? Go to court.

    As a complete aside:
    I wouldn’t use the Message bible, as it isn’t a proper translation, it’s just someone’s opinion about what the verses say. Compare and contrast Luke 16:18,19 in the Message with a reputable translation like NIV, NLT, NASB, even the KJV!

    You’ll see what I mean. The Message has a lot of meaning put into it rather than getting meaning out of the original text.

    I was at a kids service yesterday and the memory verse they gave everyone was:

    God loved the world so much that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. John 3:16.

    That is not what John 3:16 says!

    It actually says:
    For so God loved the world …

    or Just so …, In Just the same way …

    A more accurate paraphrase is …

    In just the same way, God loved the world …

    In just the same way as what?
    As the snake was lifted up in the desert so must the son of man be lifted up. John 3:14,15

    What snake? Read Numbers 20. God sent venomous snakes into the camp of the Israelites in the desert for their sin of grumbling. They realised their sin and begged Moses to ask God to take the snakes away. He never did. But he gave them a way out. He told Moses to create a bronze snake and put it on a pole. When someone was bitten they were to be brought before the snake on a pole and the Venom would lose it’s potency.

    Is that a cool foreshadowing of Jesus on the Cross?

    I can’t stand “the Message”!

    What was I talking about? 😦

  4. Bull – I don’t usually use the Message either. I used it because its a popular translation in some churches, with popular meaning. But I agree – there is a lot of opinion registering in the translation. Still – there’s frequently opinion going through many of the other translations.

    Here’s the NASB (Heretic’s favourite):

    5(F)I say this to your shame Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his (G)brethren,

    6but brother goes to law with brother, and that before (H)unbelievers?

    7Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. (I)Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?

    8On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your (J)brethren.

  5. Wazza – the schools’ reaction to the government grants didn’t occur to me. Reminds me of at uni, when they would have a huge first year, to get the grants, and get rid of as many as possible by the second year (at least in my degree). That was the common view the students had of the uni’s behaviour at the time.

    MN – glad you haven’t witnessed this behaviour. The article (sorry you couldn’t access it), named probably half a dozen prominent schools, and I heard about another over the weekend. Maybe its more common in some of the big name schools with the really huge fees, rather than the smaller schools.

    How a school could let fees become outstanding in the order of $190,000 (one of the examples in the article), I don’t know. But a friend of mine did suggest that maybe the smaller amounts weren’t worth suing over, and that they had to let them mount up in order to really be able to sue and recover them.

    As to the morality of it – I can understand schools letting parents remain in debt for a year or so. Enough time to either resolve their problems or re-enrol in a public or more affordable school. And of course the parents are also responsible for allowing the situation to continue and their level of debt to increase.

    However, I think that morally, if they are going to teach ‘Christian’ values, that perhaps the schools ought to limit the debt levels they allow to accumulate, except in perhaps very special situations, and then a scholarship might be in order to effectively forgive the debt (for example to allow a student to finish their HSC years without disruption).

    This would help families not to lose their houses – which is a far worse situation than a child changing schools – and allow the schools to keep their risk to a managable level.

    No doubt I’ve simplified things and its more complicated than that.

    Friends of mine recently changed their kids from an independent Christian school to the local public one, due to their finances, and in their case its worked out very well. They were very nervous about it, but in fact they and the kids now like the new schools better; they’ve actually met other Christian families through the public school, and the kids are in this case getting a better education, it seems. So its not always bad to change.

    These schools often require families to prove their Christian commitment prior to enrolling their kids in the schools, maybe through references via a local church, and certainly the Christian education is a feature of their curriculum. That’s why I wonder if there’s a double standard applying to their value system – do as I say, but don’t expect me to apply those teachings to my own behaviour.

    But they may feel these parts of scripture don’t apply to them or these circumstances. Another Christian I know over the weekend was pretty surprised it could be considered an issue, and thought the verses were irrelevant to the situation. Maybe that’s so. (Yet the same person is committed to tithing doctrine, which is a lot less easy to stitch together in the NT than a stance on not taking one another to court.)

    Agree MN that calling themselves ‘Christian’ doesn’t make them ‘Christian’ – can any organisation be ‘Christian’? What does that actually mean?

    BTW – I was saved in the high Anglican church when I was a kid! Have fond memories of the place. It may have been high Anglican – but it was ‘alive’ not ‘dead’ – I had a wonderful Sunday school teacher who I still remember to this day, and her example of faith is one I still follow in some ways.

  6. You were presumably saved by a Christian who was teaching at the school. The school system would have allowed her freedom to act in the way she did.

    The school system itself is not Christian, however. Not that that leaves the school decision makers without blame.

    Another concern I would have with this situation is with the parents of the children. Presumably some of these parents are Christian but are happy to keep sending their child to school whilst not taking on the responsibility of the payments.

  7. Sorry RP, really do have a bee in my bonnet about “The Message”.

    From a legal perspective … yes, the schools can take parents to court.
    From a biblical perspective … not so clear, large sums of money mean people might not get paid, so the institutions would then be guilty of not paying wages …

    From an ethical, moral perspective … it is very irresponsible, even immoral, of the schools to allow families to get behind in payments to the tune of $190,000 to quote your example.

    I would expect higher moral standards from a “Christian” institution.
    British Uni’s operate in the same way … huge intake for year one and massive drop out rate during the year and especially at the end of the year with many failing the year end exams.

  8. I agree that it is immoral for the schools to allow the running up of debt to such high levels. In my opinion this is similar to banks and other institutions providing unsecured credit to individuals where they have not adequately assessed their ability to pay it back. Predatory lending in other words, perhaps even worse because it is dealing with children’s education which people are strongly attached to.

    And just as with predatory credit-card lending, one can come to an agreement with the banks to write off the debt, I dont see why one couldnt do that with the schools.

    Its all part of capitalism, one has to write down risky debt. This is without even bringing in some sort of Christian principles against suing which RP mentioned.

  9. Christian schools = Christian music labels = Christian mega-churches = business.

    Screw with me and I’ll take your house. Simple business maths. Why do you think we’re so successful? 😉

  10. “Christian schools = Christian music labels = Christian mega-churches = business.”

    This could be true. I more agree with this being the motive behind some mega-churches.

    But also consider:
    Christian schools = Christian music labels = Christian mega-churches = correct social morals, manners and conduct.

    A lot of ministries see their calling as providing the salt for the community. Creating effective Christians (this could be what Danny Nallia wants to see), that keep healthy and safe communities tightly knitted together with God and good moral standards.

    When a Christian in the secular world makes it big in the secular, they are generally noted in church settings. This is why their are Christian Business house groups and why people like Brooke Frasier are praised by ministries.

    The only problem is, is that the church institution wants to be recognized for attracting or producing successful people. This does blur the lines of a ministries motivations.

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