The Sliding Scale: A Tool of Economic Justice was originally published on Califia Collective. The text you see below is modified by Sola School, and largely written by Alexis J. Cunningfolk from the Worts and Cunning Apothecary.
Class and economic justice are topics that lots of folks struggle to talk about in the United States because most of us aren't educated in schools or the culture at large to talk about money, access to resources, and what class actually is. Class cannot be understood as an isolated experience, but is part of the complex interactions of race, gender, ability, privilege, sexuality, and the myriad of identities we all hold. We think the sliding scale is a great way to begin a conversation about class because it frames the discussion from the standpoint of access. Please feel free to share, cross-post, and incorporate the information you find here (including the graphics) from this article onto your site - We just ask that you give credit to keep the conversation going.
What is Sliding Scale?
The sliding scale is a tool that allows for a product or service to be obtained at multiple price points based on the circumstances of the purchaser. Typically, the scale will be set in a chart and some form of income verification is provided by the purchaser to an authority figure who determines where on the scale the purchaser falls. This method allows folks who would most likely be priced out of something to have the chance to take part in it. It also seeks to address the systemic inequalities of class in our culture.
The sliding scale represents the idea that financial resources, including income, are not and should not be the only determining factor in whether or not someone can access services/care/etc. Service providers and institutions usually offer sliding scale because there is a commitment to serving individuals and/or communities that would otherwise not be able to afford the services. Often, these organizations actively seek external funding to establish financial stability and fill in the economic gaps that sliding scale does not provide for. Most small businesses and independent teachers, like us, do not receive any outside funding to supplement sliding scale discounts, so we must take into account what we are able to offer and still be able to support our lives and families.
For a sliding scale to work it relies on the principles of truthfulness, respect for complexity, and accountability. We do not ask for income verification. We prefer to trust our students and clients to be honest. Community thrives when accountability is a central value, because that is where trust grows and depth work can be done. Teachers deserve to get paid and students deserve classes which recognize the multiple realities of economic access and privilege that exist.
How does one determine where they land on sliding scale?
We find that the idea of sacrifice versus hardship is helpful when examining access. If paying for a class, product, or service would be difficult, but not detrimental, it qualifies as a sacrifice. You might have to cut back on other spending in your life (such as going out to dinner, buying coffee, or a new outfit), but this will not have a long term harmful impact on your life. It is a sacred sacrifice in order to pursue something you are called to do. If, however, paying for a class, product, or service would lead to a harmful impact on your life, such as not being able to put food on the table, pay rent, or pay for your transportation to get to work, then you are dealing with hardship. Folks coming from a space of hardship typically qualify for the lower end of the sliding scale.
We find the idea of sacrifice versus hardship to be a very useful nuance when talking about class and access because it recognizes and respects that paying for something might still be a challenge even if it is just a short-term one, while giving appropriate space for those who are dealing with ongoing financial hardships.
Here are our general guidelines for how we currently price our sliding scale to help you determine where you fall on it.
(Tier 1) Supporter/Rebalance
This access point reflects what we feel the true value of the class or service to be. It is the cost that we would charge all students in the absence of a sliding scale, and if everyone had financial stability. If you have access to financial security, own property or have personal savings, you would not traditionally qualify for sliding scale services. If you are able to pay for "wants" and spend little time worried about securing necessities in your life, then you have economic privilege and power in our community. This price is for you.
( Tier 2) Sustaining/Fair Access
This access point reflects our acknowledgement that paying the full cost would prevent some folks from being able to attend, but these people do not honestly find themselves reflected in descriptions for the highest cost or the lowest. If you are struggling to conquer debt or build savings or move away from paycheck-to-paycheck living, but have access to steady income and are not spending most of your time thinking about meeting basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care, child care, etc., you belong here. If you, however, can ask others for financial support, such as family members, partners, or friends, please consider using those personal resources before you use the resources of the sliding scale and limiting opportunities for others.
(Tier 3) Scholarship/Supported Access
This access point represents our honest acknowledgment that there are folks whose economic circumstances will prevent them from being a part of this event if there is not be a deliberate opportunity made for them to access services at a cost that is reflective of their economic realities. If you struggle to maintain access to needs such as health care, housing, food, child care, and are living paycheck to paycheck or are in significant debt, you belong here, and you deserve a community that honors your value as equal to the person who can pay the highest tier.
(Tier 4) Pay what you can honors and acknowledges that for some there is absolutely no extra financial leeway to attend this event, and that in making time to attend this event they are already paying with their time and other accommodations they make to be there. In these cases we ask for donations of any amount as a gesture of gratitude and exchange with the teacher and host.
Please be mindful that if you purchase a price at the lowest end of the scale when you can truthfully afford the higher ticket prices, you are limiting access to those who truly need the gift of financial flexibility. Being honest with yourself and your financial situation when engaging with sliding scale practices grows strong and sustainable communities. It also respects the work of teachers and creators who have families to support and rent to pay. Remember that when we are paid fairly, we are able to invest more of our time and resources to free and lower cost offerings.
At the end of the day, the sliding scale thrives on trust. Trust is a pretty amazing thing. We trust you to be honest in your assessment of your economic reality.