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Tyron Jones

Personal Finance Expert

Updated: 10/2022

Tyron Jones is a finance expert who has operated within the auto insurance business for more than 10 years. He has written many other finance related articles for a number of prominent publications.

The U.S. education system caters to a myriad of students. Some attend private schools, while others attend public schools. One of the most significant differences between the two is the cost of education. Parents who choose a private school for their kids end up paying thousands of dollars every year. Such is not the case with public learning institutions.

A study by Jonathan Rothwell established that the cost of housing near a high-performing public school is relatively higher as compared to those that score lower. Consequently, parents have to decide where to take their children to school. Do the benefits of private schools outweigh those of public schools or vice versa? Does the cost matter? Does the school that a student attends influence their chances of getting into college?

To get comprehensive answers to these questions, parents need to compare the pros of private and public schools. Fortunately, this post will conduct an in-depth analysis of both and compare the costs.

Cost of Private School vs. Public School

Needless to say, there's a significant difference between the cost of private school and private school. Private schools cost much more compared to public schools, but the costs differ from school to school.

Private Schools

According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of private elementary and high schools in the U.S was 34,600.

Additionally, the study indicated that the number of children enrolled in private schools in the fall of the same year stood at approximately 5.8 million. Although the number seems large, it only catered for about 11 percent of all schoolchildren in the U.S.

Public schools receive funding from the government but private schools don't. As a result, parents whose children attend private schools have to pay tuition fees. However, before taking your kid to a private school, you need to do a comprehensive research. Why? There exist different types of private schools, and their type of education and costs differ significantly.

According to statistics, the average tuition cost in private schools is $12,350 per child. Additionally, parents with kids in private schools incur extra costs amounting to an average of $3,700. Such costs include books, sports, field trips, school uniforms, and supplies. On average, therefore, a parent pays about $16, 050 every year.

That means that to afford private school comfortably, the household income for the family has to be high. It is imperative to note, however, the cost of tuition varies from state to state depending on a couple of factors. As a result, middle-class families can also afford to take their kids to private schools based on where they live.

Moreover, the cost varies with the type of private school. The types of private schools include for-profit, non-profit, religious, secular, specialty, boarding, and day schools. For instance, taking a child to a boarding school will cost much more as compared to a private day school. The average tuition cost for a five-day boarding school is about $33,140.

Besides the type of school, the grade also influences the cost. Notably, you'll pay higher for private secondary schools as compared to elementary schools.

The religious affiliation of a private school also determines the amount of fees parents pay. Usually, the Catholic Church has many private schools across the U.S. Such schools are usually much cheaper as compared to other private schools. Parents might find themselves paying $4,840 for elementary school and 11,240 for high school.

Public Schools

Looking at the economic condition of U.S. residents, it's clear that most children attend public schools. In fact, according to a 2018 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of public schools enrollments stood at 47.3 million. That figure was approximately 94 percent of all American students.

Public schools tend to get their funding from local property taxes. Therefore, the best public schools are mostly in high-income areas. That's because the funding they receive allows them to spend more on equipment, teachers, and co-curricular activities. Consequently, students in such schools get better grades than their counterparts in low-income areas.

Although all public schools get their funding from the government, the funds vary significantly from state to state. Mostly, students are assigned to local public schools depending on where they live. However, some cities such as Boston let parents select among a couple of nearby schools to enroll their children.

Additionally, approximately 7 percent of public schools are charter schools. What does this mean? Although they get their funding from tax dollars, they're allowed to operate outside the public schools' systems. Therefore, charter schools enjoy enough flexibility in selecting their curriculum. That's why most focus on a specific type of education – it could be arts or science.

As a result, the popularity of charter schools has grown significantly in the U.S. Although some parents think these schools are better than local public schools, they need to know that the teacher-student ratio is almost similar. In fact, scores on math and reading tests are almost identical.

Under public schools, you'll also find magnet schools. These are the kind that focus on specific subjects, such as arts, science, or language. Such schools are usually run by a school district or a group of the same. As such, students from these districts can enroll in the schools, regardless of where they live.

Although the government caters for public education, studying in these schools isn't entirely free. Parents have to cover various costs, including school and extra-curricular supplies. To determine the cost of a public school, parents need to assess the cost of the neighborhoods associated with the school. The best public schools in the country will cost relatively higher as compared their counterparts.

Benefits of Private Schools

Here are some notable benefits of private schools.

1. Lower Student-Teacher Ratio

Most private schools have a lower student-teacher ratio. That means that a teacher is responsible for fewer students, thus enabling him or her to give each student adequate attention. According to the NCES, the average student-teacher ratio was 16.2 for public schools and 11.9 for private schools in 2015.

2. Smaller Class Size for Elementary Students

Elementary students require plenty of attention from their teachers. That way, they easily understand basic concepts in class. Fortunately, private schools allow this because the teacher deals with a lower number of students.

3. Diverse Curriculum

Unlike public schools, the curriculum of private schools is not limited to state standards. The schools are allowed to experiment, thus offering more in their curriculum. Moreover, they have the freedom of teaching religious education and other skill-based courses, such as music or art.

4. Safety

Generally, private schools offer safer environments than public schools do. There is a minimal likelihood of gangs being present in private schools or the students experiencing bullying. Moreover, such students hardly see hate-related graffiti around school or get called names.

5. Better Test Scores

The NCES reports over the years indicate that private school students get better test scores compared to public schools students. These performances, however, are mostly influenced by the students' backgrounds. Parents of private school students tend to be wealthier and better educated. According to NCSPE these variables can sometimes mean there actually isn't an improvement.

6. Advanced Placement

Private high schools also provide their students with more comprehensive advanced placement courses compared to public high schools. Notably, they offer 11 courses while the average for all schools in the US is 8 courses.

7. College Preparation

Taking your kid to a private school might prove advantageous because of the college preparation they receive. It is believed to be better than the one public school students get. This preparation improves their chance of performing excellently in their SATs.

Benefits of Public Schools

Like private schools, public schools also have some advantages. Here are the most notable advantages.

1. More Qualified Teachers

Public schools attract highly qualified teachers because they pay higher than private schools. Besides, most public school teachers have a college degree, and they have years of experience. Combining these aspects means the students have access to highly qualified teachers.

2. Diversity

Public schools enjoy more diversity. Private schools in America are predominantly white. On the other hand, public schools have students from different backgrounds and cultures. The diversity allows the students to experience some benefits, such as feeling more supported and comfortable.

3. Programs for Students With Disabilities

Public schools often offer better programs for students with disabilities as compared to private schools. Moreover, they employ highly skilled and trained teachers to work with such students. Some private schools may not have these programs.

4. Extracurricular Activities

Public schools have many students. Therefore, the large size gives these schools an advantage when it comes to certain activities, including sports and theatre. A large number of students allows the schools to develop programs that offer several activities.

So What Now?

Parents often struggle when deciding whether to send their children to private or public schools. The most significant difference between these schools is the cost. Private schools are more expensive compared to public schools because parents pay tuition out-of-pocket while public schools are government-funded. Although both types of schools provide quality education, we would recommend private schools as the better option for preparing children for college. Moreover, private school students get better reading and math test scores as compared to public school students.

Should I Pay for my Child’s College After Private School?

I don’t know when it happened, but apparently all parents are expected to pay for their child’s college education these days. Every financial services commercial on television assumes that this is my plan, and they all ask me the same question: how am I going to pay for it? Not “are you going to do it?’ but rather “how?” am I going to do it.

I want to be honest that I don’t know that I agree with this. This can be attributed to my natural contrarian streak, but I do feel that it is necessary that we examine personal finance mythology to see what works.

My oldest daughter is in private school, and it costs $115 per month to pay her tuition and fees. This is discounted by 50% because my wife is a teacher at the school. Her high school tuition will be approximately $10,000 per year (not discount eligible), more than my college education cost. So for two children, by the time they are both through high school, I will have spent approximately $115,000.

One saving grace is that we will save approximately $5,000 per year in childcare costs once my second (youngest) daughter goes to kindergarten in three years. Still, this leaves me with a giant mountain to climb, but one that is attainable.

Once our student loans are paid off next year, it will be time to enact a plan to save for both daughters’ high school tuition. Using our combined income of ~$85,000 per year (yes, we are better off than many, but live frugally and below our means), which will allow for almost $2,000 per month in free money after all bills are paid and supplies are purchased, we can implement a regular monthly savings plan.

Using an automatic savings transfer from your main account to a separate online bank is a great way to accomplish this. I recommend SmartyPig, which allows .

So let’s look at my goal of saving for each daughter’s high school by the time they reach 9th grade.

Oldest Daughter, age 6.5.  For my oldest daughter, we will allow 8 years to reach the goal, putting her at 14 years of age. Remember, because we have already paid for her schooling thus far, we will need $16,000 to get us through 8th grade. It will take $40,000 to get through high school, putting us at $56,000 total. But, because we are already paying her tuition as we go, we only need to save $40,000.

8 years X 12 months = 96 months. $40,000 divided by 96 months is $416 per month – HOLY SHIT!

This basically means I need to save about $800 per month for 8 years just for them to go to high school. That will be almost half of our available monthly retirement savings. But, when our second (youngest) daughter starts kindergarten, she will come out of her child care, giving us an extra $300 per month. That means we will only need to dent our retirment savings by $500 per month for eight years.

Now this leaves us at our discussion point: I don’t feel like I was raised to covet private school. I went to public school my entire life. But the public schools in the city in which we live are no good, and we like the tight-knit community of our private school.

Saving for their college will definitely be a burden, assuming there are no job losses or financial catastrophes. And yes, I feel that this burden will mean that I will likely not be able to contribute even a penny to their college education. If they want $40,000 for high school, they better do a damn good job and get a college scholarship.

So what do you think? Should parents be expected to pay for college? Should the children of those who funded their own education do the same thing? Should we use the fruits of our hard work to make it easier on the generations after us?

These are tough financial questions that make personal finance so fun, yet so challenging.



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