Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Does profit motivate support for vouchers?

Lisa Schencker wrote in today's Trib ( about Richard Eyre and his Oreo cookie show at the Rotary Club in Salt Lake City. I like Ms. Schencker's reporting, but I think she might have turned in a more indepth story if she'd had the benefit of Jeff Harmon's letter to the DesNews from last week (,5143,695218115,00.html). In it, he wrote:

The most important question is "Who actually benefits from a voucher system?" And the answer is: Anyone who has a financial interest in private schools.

I have no evidence that Mr. Eyre wants to run a private school. He and his wife are successful authors and they've been on national television to promote their books. But media reports say that they do have an interest in a company they founded in the 1970s that provides pre-packaged education curriculum programs to pre-schools. And the family members who now run that company have expressed a desire to expand their sales into "a much larger market." Could the Eyres or their adult children benefit financially from the adoption of a voucher program? If private elementary schools plan to expand their services to offer pre-school, and the Eyres plan to expand their programs into "a much larger market," could a business partnership take advantage of the public funds flowing into private elementary schools through vouchers?

Here's what I found on the internet: A 32-year-old Arizona mother named Shawni Pothier has organized several parents in Gilbert, Arizona, to form a co-op pre-school called the Joy School. In an article here (, it says that Pothier "is the daughter of a prominent Utah couple, Richard and Linda Eyre, who started the Joy School program about 20 years ago."

The program provides, for a fee, "lesson plans and CDs with songs, games and other activities..."

When I googled "Joy School," I found a webpage for the Logan Joy School here (, which says it has a "teacher with degree in early-childhood education from USU," which is surprising, because the voucher plan that Mr. Eyre is supporting with his Oreo cookie commercials doesn't require private schools to hire teachers with degrees. Nonetheless, this is the right webpage, because it clearly states it is "the wonderful Joy School curriculum created by Richard and Linda Eyre and honed in the original Joy School right here in Logan." The cost per student ranges depending on how many days per week the student attends.

"Joy Schools" are now marketed by the Joy School Company, I learned from another webpage ( The Joy School Company, though founded by Mr. Eyre, is now run by his daughter and son-in-law, Saren Eyre and Jared Loosli. Mrs. Eyre Loosli's own education career began when "she ran a company in Boston providing educational character-based after school programs for the lower elementary school grades," so she has experience selling curriculum programs to schools. And "Her husband, Jared, is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has worked in marketing for the last 6 years. With his expertise, Saren and Jared hope to offer Joy School to a much larger market."

The Joy School Company is clear about its three-part mission, the first part of which is its profit motive:

To offer the benefits of Joy School to more children and families through promoting and supporting “commercial” or “for-profit” Joy Schools

Expansion of their program is another goal, using "former elementary school teachers" to help the enterprise grow:

If you want to send your child to Joy School rather than doing it yourself, find someone who’d like to make a little extra money by teaching children a couple mornings a week in her home and have her contact The Joy School Company for help in setting up her own Joy School . Usually the best “commercial” Joy School teachers are former preschool or elementary teachers or have some other sort of experience working with young children...

"Franchisees" who want to buy into the company "for profit" get a menu of products from the Joy School Company:

A CD-ROM containing a full set of registration forms, a parent handbook, and recruitment materials that you can personalize and use for your group
Suggested supply lists and templates for making the items you’ll use again and again in your Joy School
Overall instructions and tips for running an effective program
Ideas for setting up your home
Agendas for parent meetings as well as ideas and newsletters to encourage parent participation and understanding of the Joy School curriculum
Lesson plans offering simple instructions for crafts, activities, stories, snack ideas, and everything else involved in the lessons
Ongoing support to help you with problems that arise
New ideas via email bulletins
Opportunities to network with other Joy School operators and advertise your program on our website.

The website's fact sheet explains how they profit. They collect:

$150.00 for your one-time start-up fee (covers your $50 lifetime membership to plus instructions, timelines and checklists for effectively starting up your program, fliers and information sheets for advertising your program, all the forms you need to register children, supply lists and ideas for setting up effective spaces for teaching, parent-orientation materials, templates for making weather charts and other posters and materials you use throughout the year, and more). If you’ve previously paid a $50 for your lifetime membership fee to, you just pay $100 for your start-up kit.

$85.00 per semester for your school’s franchise fee (you pay this every semester that you teach Joy School – it gives you the right to use Joy School materials and the Joy School name, to get all the lesson plans and all updates to lesson plans, to receive newsletters and materials to give out to the families of the children you teach, and to get support and help from the Joy School company via phone calls and email. It also includes music CDs of all the children’s songs involved in the curriculum – one CD for each unit.)

$8.00 per child per unit for their Joy School “dues” plus their own CD of the songs for that unit (this includes shipping and handling of CD’s). As there are 5 units in each semester, families pay $40/child for dues per semester. Most Joy School operators charge this at the beginning of the semester as part of the registration fee for that semester. If a child does Joy School for the second year, the parents won’t need the CDs again so that child pays just $20/semester for dues.

And apparently, the profits are unending, and handy tax write-offs only add to the bottom line!

If you charge children $65/month (a pretty good deal for parents in many areas) to come to Joy School two mornings a week and have 6 children enrolled in your program, you’ll receive $390.00/month or $3510 for a 9-month school year. After you subtract out your $150 one-time start-up fee and your $170 for franchise fees ($85x2 for two semesters), you’d gross about $3200 for your first year. And this is for working just 6 hours a week (Joy School typically runs 2.5 hours, two mornings a week and it typically takes an experienced teacher about ½ hour to prepare each lesson).* Unlike many new businesses, you’d make a good profit after expenses in your first year. Then your next year, since you don’t have to pay your startup fee again and since you’d likely increase your group size, you’d make more money. If you had a group of 8 children in year two, you’d make $4510 after expenses ($65 x 8 children x 9 months = $4680; subtract $170 for franchise fees). You’d charge children separately for their dues/CDs so the per-child cost of Joy School is not included in these figures.

As time goes on, most Joy School operators add more children to their groups, teach more than one Joy School group, and/or increase their tuition as the good reputation of their preschool spreads. For example, with one group of 10 children paying $85/month, you’d make about $7480 for the year (after taking out your franchise expenses). Of course, if you chose to teach more than one Joy School group (i.e. one morning class and one afternoon class), you could make more money. You can double, triple or even quadruple the money you make as you offer more groups and/or make your groups a little larger. **

If you figure out how much you’d be making per hour in your first year, it would be almost $20/hour. If you increase your class size to 10 children and your tuition to $85/month (as in the scenario above), you’d be making almost $40/hour.*** If you’re teaching your own child as part of your group, it works out very nicely to be making money rather than spending money on your own child’s preschool experience. And this would be money you can make without having to leave your home or find childcare for your children. Plus you basically get paid vacations since you are paid the same amount every month by parents, regardless of holiday breaks when you don’t hold Joy School.

Another thing to bear in mind is that when you run a business in your home, you can write off part of your mortgage or rent payments when you do your taxes. You can also write off your supplies and all expenses related to running your Joy School. Many Joy School operators find that their tax savings are substantial.

But they add a disclaimer at the bottom:

* As your actual income is dependant on the amount you charge for tuition, how successful you are in recruiting students, and the overall quality of your preschool, the Joy School Company cannot guarantee any particular amount of income.

Just as in the case of House Bill 148, the Eyres' Joy School enterprise believes that no particular college preparation or credentials are necessary to work with children, although they say former elementary school teachers (who presumably come with college educations and state licensure) make the best teachers:

The best Joy School teachers are those who’ve had considerable experience teaching and caring for young children. Many in-home commercial Joy School teachers are former elementary or preschool teachers. Some have taught Joy School as a co-op with other mothers and got their teaching experience that way. The most important qualifications of a Joy School operator are

an understanding and appreciation of the Joy School curriculum
experience working with children and a good natural rapport with children
an ability to work well with parents
good organizational skills and basic computer skills
a sincere desire to provide a wonderful preschool experience to children and to involve their parents in their preschool education

Speaking of licensure, however, the fact sheet does caution franchisees that pesky laws in some states may actually require them to fill out some forms and sit through a couple of hours of meetings to get a "family day care provider" license. And as for being insured against liability if harm comes to a child in a Joy School, they have a quick fix for that, too:

License: In some states, you need to obtain a “family day care provider” license in order to run a preschool in your home. There is no separate category for preschools, so you have to meet the requirements (which are generally very minimal) for holding a daycare in your home. Some states only require that you get a license if you have more than a certain number of children or if they will be with you for more than a certain number of hours a day. You may not need a license if you state that you’re providing an educational program, not day care. If your state does require you to have a license, don’t worry, the fee per year is usually less than $100 and the requirements typically involve attending a 2 hour meeting, filling out some forms, and having someone visit your home to be sure it meets basic safety standards.

Insurance: You generally don’t need special insurance to run a preschool in your home but we recommend that you have all parents sign a waiver stating that they won’t hold you liable for any common injuries that may occur while their child is with you.

Apparently, the Eyre family enterprise has been lucrative for them and for some who continue to pay the franchise fees. One satisfied franchisee is quoted saying,

I’ve transformed my garage into my own little preschool classroom (and wrote off all the expenses on my taxes!) and we’ve got a great system going here.

Another wrote,

Once parents come see the fun room I have set up in my basement, observe a lesson, and look at the flier I give them about the Joy School philosophy, they’re hooked.”

Is it possible that Mr. Eyre is promoting universal vouchers in Utah in anticipation of a massive business expansion into private elementary schools? Could there be a "much larger market" than that?

I don't know. I never see Mr. Eyre on his television commercials talking about his investment in this private education curriculum enterprise. I only hear him talking about Oreo cookies and encouraging voters to support Referendum 1.

While I'm here, I should mention that another google search brought me right back here (, where Mata Hari had already caught the Eyre family's profit motive, and where she found something ironic about their "value of the month": self-reliance.

(As an aside, I noted that the Eyre's "value of the month" is self-reliance. Can someone please tell me what is self-reliant about parents accepting public taxpayer funds to pay for private school? Wouldn't a truly "self-reliant" parent eschew tax dollars and dig deeply into his or her pocket, in a self-reliant way, and pay for their own children?)

Which brings me back to Ms. Schencker's item in today's Trib. While Mr. Eyre continues using his Oreo cookie show to suggest -- erroneously, as is apparent to common sense -- that vouchers will raise per-pupil spending in public schools while reducing class size, State Board of Education chairman Kim Burningham gave their audience the common-sense response, which yielded at least one viewer's common-sense verdict on "fuzzy math":

"I wish education financing were simple," Burningham said, "but it's very complex." Just because a child leaves a school, he said, doesn't mean all the school's costs go down. He said public schools that lose students also lose the federal money that comes with them. Schools would also still have to pay for capital outlay costs, costs such as salaries for janitors and teachers and special education students, who can cost several times more to educate than typical students.

Burningham said ultimately vouchers would cost $429 million over 13 years, which would exceed any savings.

Rotary Club member Linda Bonar said she thought both sides did well, but the Oreo argument did nothing to sweeten her view on vouchers. She's still against them.

"I'm still concerned about the fuzzy math involved," Bonar said.