Education: The Pay-What-You-Can Plan

Nonpublic schools experiment with negotiated tuitions

Like many other parochial schools, Bishop McNamara, a small Roman Catholic high school in Kankakee, Ill., found itself in a fiscal predicament. Community unemployment had reached 13%, and working-class parents could no longer afford the school's $850 yearly tuition. Enrollment had dropped steadily for a decade. The full tuition fell far short of the school's cost per pupil (estimated at $1,400 a year), but no increase was possible. Then school officials decided to try a new tactic: negotiating tuition.

Parents met last spring with administrators and volunteers to work out how much of the $1,400 cost they...

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