Monday, June 15, 2009

Your Tax Dollars at Work, Part 2

Someday, I'm going to have to sit down and calculate how much extra money the government has devoted to me, above and beyond the normal things like public schooling and my salary as a teacher. I suspect the total will be staggering.

There were a couple of nice summer programs in junior high and high school, science and literature camps funded entirely by the state. Things got a bit crazier when I hit college. In addition the standard state subsidy for my university, I got a sizable scholarship from the state. They were willing to throw $40,000 at me to try to keep me around after graduation, and I accepted $30,000 of their money. I guess it worked; the feeling of moral indebtedness played at least a small role in my decision to ask to be assigned to teach in my home state when Teach For America asked about my geographic preferences.

Then there's the research funding. My first summer research internship was partially funded by a private foundation, but the second was funded entirely by the NSF and paid handsomely. Throw in the funding for lab supplies and a dorm room, and that was an expensive summer. Then my great state decided to give me a grant to pay myself to shoot lasers at proteins, pay my advisor a pittance for his help, and buy still more lab supplies. That struck me as a spectacularly inefficient use of state funds, especially given that I was going to do the work for my thesis anyway and could requisition funds for supplies from one of my fellowships.

I probably don't want to know how much has been invested in turning me into a TFA corps member. I'm sure paying all of the people involved in my training has not been cheap, and later this summer I'll be getting a Americorps funding of $4,700-something to use for graduate school. If they renew the funding, I'll be getting a similar award next year.

Now I'm up to my eyeballs in "professional development". By the end of the week I should have 82 hours, all from classes that are not only free, they come with stipends. I wasn't aware that this program came with a stipend since the packet of materials they sent me went missing in the mail, and I have no idea how much they're paying, but last week I got $250. This program also registered me for a dorm room even though I told them I could commute from my parents' so I'm typing this from a two bedroom, four bed, private bath suite that the luck of the draw has me occupying alone. I've got another week in July down where I went last week; that one pays $625 and provides a dorm room. The programs also provide some supplies to take back to the classroom that are worth hundreds of dollars.

I can't help but think there's been some mistake. Huge amounts of money were invested in developing one individual believed to be valuable human capital, but I'm not sure what the return on that investment will be. My undergraduate research was a lot of fun for me, but I suspect it could have been done better, faster, and cheaper. I'm gradually getting better at teaching, and I suspect this week in particular is going to have a positive impact on how I approach ninth grade physical science, but I would have been equally happy commuting and not getting paid. I can't help but feeling that somehow, someday, I need to do something to justify all of this expense.


Anonymous said...

Don't worry, you'll be paying taxes the rest of your life!

I once did a similar informal analysis, and due to the fact I make much more than I would have without the college, I concluded that it was well worth it for the gov't to give me grants/scholarships. Though... I would have went to college anyway, so...

Frugal Scholar said...

EC--Truly, this is the small potato department! I always find it funny that we teachers are thrilled to get these crumbs--and even feel a little guilty. A glance at the news should set us straight.