People pay to be served nearly every day. You pay the bus fare, and the driver takes you along his route. You pay the barista to make you coffee, the bartender to make your drink and the cabbie to take you home.
But how would you like to get paid to be served? That's the deal that more than 300 rising ninth-graders in the District are getting in classrooms this summer, as The Examiner's Lisa Gartner reported Monday. They had signed up for the District's summer work program, but DCPS flagged them as at-risk academically. Now, school has become their summer job, with a wage of $5.25 per hour. DCPS officials are discussing expanding this program next year.
No one is getting rich from this little swindle, but that's not the point. At least in theory, DC Public Schools provide students with an education -- one of the most important and valuable services one can receive in the modern world. And you don't get paid to go to school, any more than you get paid to eat sushi or have cable television installed at your house. You don't get paid to be served. It's just not the way the world works.
School is a privilege. It costs the District's taxpayers a lot of money to provide "free" universal K-12 education for all comers. Many parents pay thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of an education. The work that students put into learning at school is its own reward -- an asset whose value will continue to grow throughout their careers. It's a terrible idea to teach them that school attendance is some kind of imposition for which they should be compensated.
Was anyone thinking about this when the program was developed? It seems the answer is no. Councilman Michael Brown, who until recently oversaw the summer work program, offered this response: "That's a completely legitimate argument," he said. "It is a very, very, extremely justified, debatable issue, and I don't think there's a right answer."
Of course there's a right answer. Students who are at risk or in need of remediation should attend summer school, and they should do so without any financial inducements.