The number of students attending private school is dropping. According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.1 million students attended private elementary and high schools in 2011, compared to 4.8 million in 2005.
The recession might be to blame for the decline as parents tighten their wallets. The growth of charter schools – which parents see as a free alternative to typical public schools – could also play a part.
If you’re considering sending your kid to private school, here are some points to consider…
Private schools are privately funded and charge annual tuition. The National Association of Independent Schools says in the 2011-2012 school year, private school tuition averaged about $19,000 a year, but can go much higher. CNNMoney recently wrote a story about Tabor Academy in Massachusetts where tuition ranges from $35,400 for day students to just under $50,000 for boarding school students.
On the other hand, your child can go to any public school in your district free. These schools are funded by property taxes, which you’ll pay every year regardless of where your child goes to school.
2. Financial aid
Financial aid is often available, but most grants and scholarships are managed by the school. For example, my friend’s son attends a private school in New Orleans, and 50 percent of his tuition is covered by the school.
While there are some national scholarships like Children’s Scholarship Fund and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Young Scholars Program, you’ll have a better chance of getting financial aid if you choose a private school with available grant programs. Even then, financial assistance can be hard to get. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, only 21.5 percent of private school students received financial aid in the 2011 – 2012 school year. The median grant was $10,340, a bit more than half the cost of average tuition.
3. Quality of local public schools
Your child doesn’t necessarily need to go to private school to get a good education. Before considering private school, visit your local public schools in person, research their rankings, and see what the school has to offer. For example, I went to Keller High School, a public school in Texas that is ranked 9 out of 10 on GreatSchools.org, so I got a good education free.
To check out individual school rankings visit:
- U.S. News Best High School Rankings – rankings by state and nationally
- SchoolDigger – rankings, test scores, enrollment numbers, and comparisons to other schools in the state
- GreatSchools – rankings according to site editors and readers
Programs vary widely from public to private schools. Since public schools are regulated by local government, they’re restricted to teaching locally approved courses. For example, when I was in high school we took basic math, science, history, Texas history (yes, it was a separate course), and athletics. We also chose one elective – art, music, or drama.
Private schools offer more program options and the potential of specializing in areas like fine arts or technology. For example, the Louise S. McGehee private school in New Orleans integrates performing arts courses into the curriculum starting from pre-K.
One possible downside to a private school is a lack of socialization. Many private schools have a smaller class size than public schools and some are gender-specific. So your child might forgo the opportunity to interact with people from as many cultures and backgrounds as they’d find in public school, potentially restricting their social development.
Of course, many students thrive both socially and academically in either setting, and some parents may prefer the smaller, more nurturing environment offered by private schools.
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