What Is The Cost Of Your DREAM?

Let us consider the fictional case of Jennifer, who was born in the equally fictional country of Faraway in 1994 and brought to the United States illegally by her parents in 1996.  She will soon graduate from high school and turn 18.  She is an excellent student and is graduating in the top five percent of her high school class from a public school in Montgomery County, Maryland, where her family has lived for as long as she can remember.

First, let us approximate how much Montgomery County spent educating Jennifer from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  Montgomery County’s fiscal year 2011 operating budget was $2.104 billion dollars.  Assuming Jennifer has no special needs, and given that 80.4% of that amount was spent on instruction and that there were 144,064 students, (and assuming that approximately the same amount of money was spent to instruct each student) we find that $11,742 was spent on Jennifer:

$2,104,000,000 * 0.804 / 144,064 = $11,742

Montgomery County’s budget in previous years was likely less, but when we adjust those budgets to 2011 dollars it stands to reason that the above number is a reasonable average for the annual amount spent on Jennifer.  This means that the total amount spent by Montgomery County on Jennifer’s public education was:

$11,742 * 13 = $152,646

But wait!  Surely Jennifer’s parents offset this amount somewhat through property taxes, even if they were paid by proxy through rent paid to their landlord.  And you are correct.  Let us assume that Jennifer’s parents were paying $1500 per month rent (adjusted to today’s dollars), that their landlord was paying property tax on $300,000 annually, and that 100% of that property tax went to cover Jennifer’s public school costs:

$300,000 * 16 (years) * 0.009590 (property tax rate) = $46,032

So our generous calculation has Jennifer’s parents covering less than one-third of her public school education costs (and we have been assuming that she is an only child).  Jennifer has, so far, received over $100,000 in public education benefits (no different, one might argue, than any other child in the United States, but remember, Jennifer is different).

But Jennifer has a DREAM!  She feels that because she has lived her whole life in Maryland, knows no other home than the United States, speaks no other language than English, and feels alienated from the Farawian culture, that she is entitled to pay in-county tuition at a Montgomery County community college.  Before we consider the cost to the County of allowing Jennifer to pursue her DREAM, let’s take a moment to meet Jeremy, also born in Faraway in 1994.  Jeremy’s family stayed in Faraway and he is also graduating this year.  He has also worked hard, is graduating in the top five percent of his class, speaks fluent English, and would like to attend class this fall at a community college in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Here are the costs that Jennifer and Jeremy would have to pay (for 15 credit hours) if Jennifer’s DREAM comes true:

Jennifer:  $2,226

Jeremy:  $5,862

The difference for the state to fundone semesterof Jennifer’s DREAM is $3,636, and Jennifer’s DREAM is only to attend community college.  For now.  Remember, Jennifer and Jeremy are both citizens of Faraway.  They are both top students at their high schools.  They both speak fluent English.  The only difference between them is that Jennifer’s parents have been enabling her to break the law for the last sixteen years.  I support dreams, but in a world full of dreamers Jennifer should be willing to pay just as much for her DREAM as Jeremy.

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