Are Private Schools Worth It?

So my partner in all things personal finance has transitioned to a new stage – mom of a kindergarten student. As a product of the public school system, she was set on starting her daughter in the neighborhood public school until she didn’t. She’s been a home owner in a suburb with limited school resources years before she was married or ever dreamed of having children. Now circumstances prevent her from selling and moving into a better district. Her experience has kicked off a debate, which touched a nerve or two. Which is better – public or private school? Short answer…it depends.

It depends on your community and the public school options available.

It depends on your ability to afford the additional expense.

It depends on the quality of private schools in your area.

According to polls, private school education is generally perceived as academically superior. To date, there is no research that conclusively supports that perception. Many factors, such as parental involvement, home life, and expectations play a part of a child’s academic success. However, we tend to feel better about private school education. After all, you are paying for it. Right?

The average elementary school private school tuition is $6400. For high school, that amount jumps to $10,000. Private school generally have smaller class sizes. Public school teachers are paid more, on average $13,000 more annually. Private school teachers don’t strike. Everyone has an opinion on which is better – one loaded with passion! Regardless of your position on the public vs. private debate, consider the bottom line…of your budget when weighing the options.

Now, some public school options are not desirable. The school resources may be severely limited. Safety is a very real concern in some neighborhoods. We all want the best for our children. So if your public school option is less than optimal, but you have limited resources and moving to a better school district is not in the cards – consider the following ideas.

  • Evaluate your reasons for choosing private schools. Is it based on history? Perception? Image? Actually compare each private school to your public school options and make sure the private school tuition is worth the fee.
  • Adjust your household budget. Eliminate current expenses to afford the private school tuition.
  • Explore charter schools or voucher programs if available in your area.
  • Scholarships. Sometimes you can find financial assistance based on need, merit, or other criteria.
  • Start investigating early. Waiting until school starts may limit your available options.
  • Supplement your child’s academic day with additional sources. Research after school programs, tutors, or online sources. There are a plethora of free educational sites for students of all ages.
  • By all means, avoid taking out a loan to pay for primary education costs.

Where do I land on the discussion? I haven’t been convinced that private schools (unless my children might hobnob with the Obama’s, Bush’s, or Clinton’s) are generally worth the extra cost. I do realize that I’ve generally lived in communities with excellent public school options. Also, as a military brat, moving is second nature so I wouldn’t feel constrained by my current location. Given that not everyone’s experience was the same, I’m sticking with my short answer above…it depends.

 Are you pro public or private school?

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