In the face of financial challenges, new opportunities for cooperation arise for Lutheran schools
In 1858, the year Minnesota became a state, several Lutheran schools were in the process of being established in Minnesota. By 1876 there were 39 Lutheran schools of the Missouri Synod alone in Minnesota, with more than 1,380 students registered. From these beginnings the tradition of Lutheran education flourished. Many Lutheran congregations continue to support a Lutheran school today.
Of course, the economic situation of the past few years has certainly affected both individual families and Lutheran schools. Coupled with the rising costs of education, successful funding of our Lutheran school ministries, while keeping tuition affordable for families, is becoming a difficult challenge.
Enrollment is another key factor. The plethora of choices in education available to families today is greater than ever before. With the opening of an amazing number of charter schools, magnet schools, and new private schools, the challenge to excel and actually stand out becomes more complex and challenging.
In this new environment families today have become much more consumeristic in their approach to school choice. They look for a more individualized approach and demand more in their expectations of what a school offers their children. They want definite value for their family.
Families today have become much more consumeristic in their approach to school choice.
In most situations, Lutheran schools have been around for a long time. In fact, these schools have been recognized as leaders in education.
The Lutheran school system, however, is aging. In many cases, the facilities and paradigms of operation, while highly successful in the past, are becoming older. Many of the congregations associated with Lutheran schools are also aging. As the congregations age, resources diminish. This can snowball and compound the challenge of sustaining the schools. As a point in fact, six Lutheran schools have closed in the Twin Cities over the past two years, including Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) schools.
Investing in the future
A great number of people still believe a Christ-centered, quality education is as vital today as it has ever been. Parents who send their children to Lutheran schools are willing to invest the cost of tuition to build a solid foundation for their children’s future. Other individuals, often without children or with children who have already left the home, are willing to “pass it forward” to invest in the lives of future generations.
One such couple wanted to be able to instill Christian values in their sons. They chose a Lutheran school and found the atmosphere, as they described it, as very much like family, a Christian family. Their children grew each day, learning to apply their Christian values to everyday life and building a strong foundation for their future. The school became a place where families supported each other and where their children received love, nurturing, and high expectations in all aspects of their young lives.
These parents normally confirm that the investment was worth every penny and continue to stay involved long after their children have graduated. They volunteer their time and expertise; they support with annual gifts; and they have also remembered their Lutheran schools in a living trust. They consider such a financial gift a win-win situation, enabling them to leave a legacy for their ministries and do more for their children.
The value of Lutheran education
Major donors also have definite views about the importance of Christian schools. A leading Christian businessman in the Twin Cities believes that, now more than ever, the value of a Christian education is important for as many children as possible, and that the foundation developed with a Christ-centered, quality education prepares children to be future Christian leaders in their family, church, and community. He believes that, while all schools must commit to quality in their education and programs, the key difference in Lutheran schools is the principles of faith taught in the classroom, an agenda not available in a public school setting.
This donor supports Lutheran schools whose leadership demonstrates vision, energy, outreach into their community, and an effective, proactive approach to the challenges facing schools today. He believes that a broad base of sustained third-source support is essential in order to make Lutheran education high quality and yet affordable for families.
With support from people such as these, along with visional leadership within the schools, many of the Lutheran schools are succeeding. While the core of the Lutheran school experience is the Christ-centered environment, these schools also stand for quality programs, a real and perceived value for the cost of tuition. They are building strong third-source funding to supplement tuition income and congregational support. And, they are doing a better job of marketing the strengths of their school to the community.
Vital to assuring future strength, Lutheran schools should learn to become better partners. Rather than operating in individual “silos,” Lutheran schools in the future need to look for ways to cooperate and build on their mutual strengths. True strength could be built through sharing administrative leadership, funding programs, coordinated programs to build quality, and a comprehensive marketing program to build awareness across the Twin Cities.
The challenges of funding Lutheran schools, as well as changes taking place within society, make the task of building the ministries of Lutheran schools both complex and difficult. However, through partnering together, the potential for building a sustainable system for the future is increased. Is there anything more important that can be done for the next generation than to help them build a strong foundation for their lives, based on quality education and a personal relationship with Christ?
Bob Kuhlman, after attending St. Peter’s Lutheran School, Edina, Minnesota, and Lutheran High School of Minneapolis, received a degree in education from Concordia University, Nebraska. He has spent 34 years working in Lutheran education in the Twin Cities as a teacher, coach, athletic director, interim principal, and director of development. His professional career has included 25 years at Lutheran High School Association of Minneapolis; two years as development associate at Concordia University, St. Paul; and seven years (and currently) as principal at Central Lutheran School Association of St. Paul.
Tags: Bob Kuhlman, Central Lutheran School Association of St. Paul, LCMS, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Lutheran High School Association of Minneapolis, St. Peter’s Lutheran School, WELS, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod