As I was browsing my Facebook feed, a particular post caught my eye. It was a post by another mother in a Facebook group that I’m a part of. She was lamenting the fact that she needed to explore new education options for her three children, ages seven through fourteen.
As I glanced through her plea for help, I noticed several things. First of all, this concept was a new one to her. It had never occurred to her to try anything other than a public school education for her children.
Second, I saw that something drastic had changed her viewpoint.
Something had happened to disrupt her way of life. Her post was full of panic and discouragement. She felt trapped. At a complete loss. She needed the help of fellow moms to find a way out of this conundrum.
My first impulse was to suggest homeschooling her children. Given the details in her post, that seemed to be the best option to meet her needs. Unfortunately, the third thing I noticed was that homeschooling wasn’t something she could do.
What was left?
Private school seemed to be the next best suggestion. Others replying to her post echoed this idea. The poor mother, beside herself with uncertainty, countered this idea with a common objection: cost.
She didn’t believe that she could afford to pull her children from their public schools and place them within the relative safety of a private school.
I began to wonder how many other parents around the country feel the same way? K-12 Dive notes that public school enrollment is down by roughly 3% in 2020-21. Nationwide, that’s a lot of students!
I’m sure that many of them have begun to homeschool or have already enrolled in a private school. But, I can’t help but wonder how many of these parents still feel the same way this Facebook mom feels—trapped and looking for an affordable schooling option for their kids.
What the Numbers Tell Us
“Private Schools Educate About 5.5 Million Students … about 10% of students in the country,” explains ThoughtCo. “Private schools cover just about every need and requirement you can imagine.”
Obviously, private schools are already a viable possibility for some families. Unfortunately, other families wistfully eye private schooling as an out-of-reach dream, not a practical answer to their educational problems. Edchoice.org tells us that 40% of parents prefer to send their children to a private school. Shockingly, data shows that only 5% of parents actually follow through on this.
With such a big discrepancy in the numbers, you have to wonder, “Why?”
One answer to this question is glaringly obvious. It’s the same obstacle that my fellow Facebook mom grappled with: the perceived cost. Many people simply believe that a private school education is far beyond their financial reach.
So, is a private school education really as unaffordable as it seems to be? Are there ways to make it more affordable?
Many strategies, programs, and options are available to make a private school education workable for your family.
Ruth Soukup of Living Well Spending Less recently switched from homeschooling. Her children now attend a local private school. She acknowledges the financial side of their choice, but also encourages other parents to investigate for themselves.
“While private school may seem like an extravagance, it can actually be far more affordable than you might think. When we began looking into school options, we were very surprised at not only the wide range of tuition costs between schools, but the number of scholarships, tax programs, and grants available.”
So, what options are available to make this more affordable? Let’s take a look.
The desire to provide our children with a good education is a strong one—and rightfully so.
Many parents feel that a private school education would offer their kids a more advantageous experience than their current school situation. Sadly, they often opt for a cheaper option that is less tailored to their family’s needs.
MoneyCrashers explains a financial strategy that parents often overlook.
“School costs for children are one of the most significant expenses for many middle-class families. Some parents pay thousands of dollars each year to send their kids to private schools, while others spend thousands in mortgage costs to buy homes in top-rated school districts. A 2016 Brookings Institution analysis of 2010 and 2011 data found that housing near high-scoring public schools cost an average of $11,000 more per year than homes near low-scoring schools.”
Here, our first way to afford private school comes to light: perspective.
As noted in MoneyCrasher’s statement, many parents opt to spend their education budget on securing a quality public school district for their children. While an admirable move on their part, parents may want to reevaluate this decision if they favor private schooling.
As an example, MoneyCrasher takes a detailed look at the financial side of things. Comparing the costs of living in a top-notch school district vs. a less expensive area with a private school, MoneyCrashers concludes that it could be cheaper to attend a private school than a public one.
If you are among the 40% of parents who would prefer to use a private school, you may want to compare the cost of living in a higher-quality school district to the cost of a private school education. The difference might not be much…and you may be shocked at how affordable a private school suddenly seems in perspective!
2. Investigate Financial Aid Options
“Many private schools offer financial aid to low- and middle-income families. Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for help with some or all of the tuition costs,” suggests Experian. “Some schools also offer tuition discounts for families that have more than one child attending the school or belong to the house of worship affiliated with the school.”
This is a fantastic strategy for making a private school education more affordable. ThoughtCo. informs us that many private school students—in fact, about 20% of them—receive financial aid in some way, shape, or form to help with tuition. That’s a lot of students receiving a lot of financial aid! According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), grants are given on an as-needed basis and average between $9,232 and $17,295, depending on the type of private school the student is attending.
Another thing to note is that tuition may be very low or even free depending on your family’s annual income. While there are no financial aid calculators specifically for private schools, there are online financial aid calculators, such as this one. Here, you can get a ballpark idea of what costs you may be looking at. Additionally, the NAIS offers a look at financial aid options and the application process.
If you are interested in a private school for your kids, financial aid is definitely an option to explore!
3. Private School Choice Programs
More and more states are beginning to offer school choice programs, which often include tax-funded charter school, private school, and homeschool options
Private school choice programs offer students access to public funds for educational choices other than the public school system. This is commonly referred to as the money “following the child” to the family’s chosen school. If you feel that public school is not the best option for your family, these programs may be for you.
The American Federation for Children offers a glance at the various types of programs that fall under school choice:
- Voucher Programs
- Education Savings Account Programs
- Scholarship Tax Credit Programs
- Individual Tuition Tax Programs
These programs give families who may not be able to afford a private school for their children the chance to do just that. It is important to note that not all of these programs are the same. Depending on the state, your eligibility may depend on several factors, such as:
- Special needs
- Annual income
School choice options are available in over half of the U.S. EdChoice provides an interactive map where parents can explore all of their options.
If finances are holding your child back, try investigating your state’s private school choice programs!
Let’s Get Real
We’ve looked at how you can make a private school education more affordable, but how much does a private school education actually cost? This is a surprisingly complicated question.
U.S. News observes, “How much private school costs depends on not only education level, but where the school is located, whether it is secular or religious, how much financial aid is available and a host of other factors and variables.”
Educationdata.org breaks down some of the average private school costs:
“Report Highlights. The average cost of private school attendance from kindergarten through 4 years of postsecondary study is $291,404 in 2021 currency values.
- $12,350 is the average annual tuition among the nation’s 22,440 private K-12 schools.
- Annual tuition at an average private high school is $16,040.
- The average annual tuition at a private university is $35,801.
- Among the nation’s 5,158 Catholic elementary schools, the average tuition is $4,840.
- Among the country’s 260 private boarding schools, the average annual tuition, plus room and board, is $37,590.”
Private School Review provides a state-by-state breakdown of the average cost of private school tuition. This breakdown allows parents to see the wide range of tuition costs for private schools, with the District of Columbia averaging the highest cost (coming in at a whopping $25,052 per year.) South Dakota’s annual average comes in at $3,699 per year, the lowest average in the country.
The Bottom Line
Private schooling is an option with many benefits. It offers students a customizable, viable alternative to a public school education. The private school option can be a costly one, but as we’ve seen, there are several ways to make it more economical.
The benefits that private schools can provide are well worth the extra cost for many families. Parents are often surprised at just how possible private schooling can end up be when they get all the facts. Knowledge truly is power. When parents have all the pertinent information, they are equipped to make the best school choice for their family.
Perhaps affordable options aren’t as out of reach as my fellow Facebook mom believes!