Is the high cost of private school worth it? Or does a free public education reap the same results? What about charter schools or homeschooling? Here’s everything you need to know about different education costs.

When you have kids you always want to do what’s best for them. You wonder, what is the right brand of diapers to buy, which baby lotion is the best for their skin, which car seat is the safest? The sheer number of decisions that you have to make as a new parent can be overwhelming. 

One of the decisions my husband and I are currently grappling with is around the state of our children’s education. Where should they go to school? Where will they receive the best education? Is there a certain educational philosophy that would fit best with their learning style? 

When I was growing up the decision was easy. You go to the school that’s closest to where you live. And while this is still an option, parents can also consider a number of other choices. You can send your children to public school, charter school, private school, or you can homeschool.  

This article will introduce these four different schooling options, what they are, how they work, and the eduction costs involved so you can make the decision that is best for your family.

The cost of private, public, charter, and homeschool tuition and other costs to consider

 PrivatePublicCharterHomeschool
Average out of pocket tuition$11,004FreeFreeFree
Other costs to considerUniform
Extra curriculars
Transportation
Tutoring
Field trips
“Keeping up with Joneses”
School supplies
Tutoring
Clothing
Field trips
School supplies
Tutoring
Clothing
Field trips
Transportation
Curriculum
School supplies
Textbooks
Computers
Workstation (desk/chairs)
Opportunity costs

In 2019, there were approximately 56.6 million students attending elementary and secondary school in the U.S. Of those students, 5.8 million were enrolled in a private school and 50.8 million were enrolled in public schools. 

As of 2017, 7.1% of public schools are classified as charter schools. Charter schools have seen their numbers grow from 6,860 in 2016 to 7,010 in 2017.

There are approximately 2.5 million students from grades K-12 being homeschooled in the US. According to the National Home Education Research Institute. This is equivalent to approximately 3% – 4% of school-aged children. 

Private school

Private School Vs. Public School Vs. Charter Schools Vs. Homeschooling: Weighing The Costs And Financial Benefits - private school

Private school can be super expensive for the average family. While we all want what is best for our kids you might be wondering, why would I stretch myself so thin financially when I can send my kids to public school for free?

Great question. 

Every family will have their own reasons for choosing the school system that is right for them but some of the reasons families opt for private include: 

  • Smaller class sizes (sometimes). According to EducationalData.org, the average class size for private schools is 18.8 students compared to 24 students in public school. 
  • Looking for a specific educational approach. For instance, some families might want their children to experience the Montessori style of learning.
  • Gifted children or children with special needs. Certain children learn better in particular environments or require different supports.
  • Religious or cultural preference. Many private schools have a religious affiliation which may be especially important to a family. 

The cost of attending a private school

Private schools are funded by private companies and by the banks of moms and dads!  

According to Private School Review, the average cost of tuition for private school is $11,004. Breaking this down even further, the average tuition for private elementary school is $9,900 per year. The average tuition for private high school is $14,711 per year. 

Of course, the cost will also depend on where you live. If you’re located in Connecticut or Massachusetts I’m sorry to say you will be paying the highest private school tuition rates at over $24,000 per year (ouch). 

If you look into private schools associated with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the cost of tuition is even higher. The average day tuition for a NAIS school sits at $26,866 for the 2019-2020 school year. 

If you want to send your little one off to boarding school at a NAIS school, the five-day average is $46,475, and the average for a seven-day boarding school is $60,600. Wowza, that kid better get into Harvard…am I right?

Other costs associated with private school

When it comes to the cost of sending your child to private school, tuition cost is just one piece of the puzzle. You should also consider: 

  • Uniforms.
  • Extracurricular activities.
  • Gas money. (this could get pricey if you have a long daily commute to and from school)
  • The cost of keeping up with the Joneses. A lot of wealthy families send their kids to private schools. This means you might be dealing with kids that have a lot and, in turn, your kids will want to keep up. Of course, it’s up to you to manage your children’s expectations but be prepared to have this conversation. 

How to minimize costs

If you want your children to attend private school because of the smaller class sizes or specific programs being offered, you can look into financial aid to see if you qualify. If cost is an issue you can also consider religious vs. secular private schools, as religious private schools tend to be cheaper.

Public school

Private School Vs. Public School Vs. Charter Schools Vs. Homeschooling: Weighing The Costs And Financial Benefits - Public school

The majority of elementary and secondary students in the U.S. are enrolled in public schools. Public schools can be a great option for families for a number of different reasons including: 

  • Cost. I mean you can’t beat free, right?
  • Availability. All children in the U.S. have access to a free public education. 
  • Diversity. Public schools are often more diverse in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic status. 

The cost of attending public school

The average cost of public school education per student (pre K through to grade 12) in the U.S. is $13,440. The cost of a public school education is covered by funding from the government at the federal, state, and local levels.  

While you don’t have to write out a check to pay for your children’s public education, don’t be mistaken, you are still paying. Payment comes in the form of taxes!  

So, while you won’t have to dish out thousands of dollars for tuition, you will pay in other ways. Yay! 

Of course, if you already live in a home that is located in a great school district then you probably won’t worry about your property taxes in relation to your kids’ education! 

Other costs to consider

  • School supplies and clothing. In 2019 American households planned to spend an average of $696.70 on back to school shopping. This included school supplies, clothes, shoes, and electronics. 
  • Tutoring. According to tutors.com, the average hourly price of a private tutor ranges between $25 – $80 per hour.
  • Field trips. Any special trips outside of the school walls are going to cost you. It’s estimated that the average expense for field trips and extra activities at the elementary level ranges from $10 to $3,500.

How to minimize costs

  • Shop the back to school sales. This can apply to clothes, shoes, and electronics. You can check out whether or not your state has a sales tax holiday that is specifically geared at back to school purchases. You can check out if your state offers a sales tax holiday and when it is on the Sales Tax Institute website.
  • Buy used. If you are trying to keep costs down then consider going to a consignment store to buy used clothing or shoes. This can be especially useful for younger kids who seem to grow out of their stuff every few months. 

Charter schools

Private School Vs. Public School Vs. Charter Schools Vs. Homeschooling: Weighing The Costs And Financial Benefits - Charter schools

Charter schools are a type of public school and while they share some characteristics with a regular public school, they also have their differences. 

How are charter schools and public schools similar?

  • Both publicly funded.
  • Both offer free tuition.

How are charter schools and public schools different?

  • Run by independent groups while regular public schools are governed by the school board and school district.  
  • Charter schools don’t have to follow the same rules and regulations as regular public schools. They enjoy a greater sense of freedom and flexibility when it comes to their curriculum and even their school hours. 
  • Students usually have to apply to get into a charter school. If there are not enough spots for all of the applicants then a lottery is held. 
  • Charter schools often come to fruition in an effort to achieve a specific goal
  • You don’t have to live in a particular district to go to a charter school. If you can get yourself there, and you’ve been accepted, then you can go.

The cost of attending a charter school

As I already mentioned, the cost of a charter school is the same as a public school, it’s free! 

Other costs to consider

There’s not much new to consider here. It’s the same costs associated with a regular public school – you know, school supplies, clothes, and potentially some tutoring and field trips. However, if you get into a charter school that is super far away from where you live then you’ll also want to consider the amount of gas you’re going to be needing for your commute. 

Homeschooling

Private School Vs. Public School Vs. Charter Schools Vs. Homeschooling: Weighing The Costs And Financial Benefits - Homeschooling

With the current state of the world, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an influx in the number of children being homeschooled. Or maybe, all of the parents who temporarily had to step in to play the role of teacher have been scared off for good! 

Regardless, homeschooling is another option and one that accounts for approximately 2.5 million students from kindergarten to grade 12. 

Homeschooling is pretty self-explanatory – it’s schooling your kids at home. There are several reasons that a family might choose this as an option including:

  • Other school options were not a good fit for their child.
  • The family has a specific religious background that will direct the way they teach.
  • Similarly, they might have a particular educational philosophy that they want to follow.
  • Some parents might feel that it is safer to teach their children from home.
  • Your child has special needs.

The cost of homeschooling

Obviously, when it comes to homeschooling there will be no hefty tuition. However, there are still many costs associated with this form of schooling. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), families who homeschool spend an annual average of $600 per student. 

Other costs associated with homeschooling

Homeschooling is different from the other school options I’ve covered in this story because you will be the teacher and you will be teaching out of your home. So, you have to consider all of the costs associated with that task of teaching such as purchasing a curriculum, unless you decide to create your own. 

You will also need to ensure that your students have all of the tools they need to learn. This could include:

  • Textbooks.
  • Laptops.
  • Wifi.
  • Craft supplies.
  • Science experiment supplies.
  • Pens and paper.
  • Comfy chair to sit in and desks to work at.
  • Use your imagination – you can see how your costs could get out of control if you didn’t have a strict budget! 

Cost of being home

Then there is the cost associated with having your children at home most of the time. This could increase your heating or cooling bills, your water bill, and most definitely the food bill. 

Extracurriculars

What about extracurriculars? If your kids have been at home all day then they could probably use a dose of socialization (or socially distanced socialization) — depending on the times! Extracurricular activities can get expensive so make sure you consider this.

Field trips

Also, if you want to take your students on any field trips, that’s going to be coming out of your wallet. And, because your class sizes are probably pretty small you likely won’t be getting a volume discount at your local science center or zoo. 

Personal development

Unless you come from a background in education, you might want to consider some teaching classes to improve your pedagogical skills.

Opportunity costs

If you really want to think about the cost of homeschooling from all angles you also want to consider your opportunity costs. What are you giving up to homeschool your kids? Are you giving up a lucrative career or a job that you’re truly passionate about? Is it worth it to you? 

On the flip side, maybe homeschooling your littles and spending tons of time with them is what you are passionate about. 

Your sanity

Last by not least. What is your sanity worth? Are you mentally prepared to take on the role of teacher with your children? Again, this will depend on a number of factors including whether or not you want to take on this role or you feel it is your obligation due to…oh, I don’t know, a worldwide pandemic. 

How to minimize costs

  • Look for free publicly-funded curriculums online.
  • Borrow books from the library instead of purchasing new.
  • Use free online resources for teaching (we all know there’s a ton of good info available on YouTube and blogs).
  • If you plan to go on the same field trip several times (e.g. local science center) then consider buying a family pass instead of purchasing individual tickets for each visit.

How to save for your kids education

If you know you want your kids to attend private school and your bank is not overflowing with money, then it’s important to start saving as early as possible. In fact, you might want to consider saving while your kids are still babies, or even when you start thinking about having kids. It sounds crazy but private school is expensive.

While private school is the most expensive when it comes to out of pocket tuition, each type of school has costs associated with it. There is no free education. 

Private School Vs. Public School Vs. Charter Schools Vs. Homeschooling: Weighing The Costs And Financial BenefitsIf you want to start putting some money into savings for your kids education, be it tuition or back to school clothes, you can check out Chime is a great option for those who like to bank digitally as it operates online and offers both checking and savings accounts

Chime is a good place to keep savings associated with your kids schooling because they offer So, instead of earning nothing back if you just leave this money sitting in a checking account, you will at least be earning some interest. 

Chime Disclosure - *Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services and debit card provided by The Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC.
(1)Save When I Get Paid automatically transfers 10% of your direct deposits of $500 or more from your Checking Account into your savings account.
^Round Ups automatically round up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the round up from your Chime Checking Account to your savings account.

 

Do people who attend one type of school perform better?

If you’re a parent then you know that there are virtually an endless number of ways that you can screw up your kids. You give them too much attention as babies – hello attachment issues. You let them see a screen before they are 10 – ugh, how could you. You put them into public school instead of spending your grocery money on private school – do you even care about your children?

The question is, do people who attend one type of schooling perform better and then make more money as adults?

Private vs. public

In a longitudinal study published in 2018, researchers found that kids (K to 9th grade) in private school perform better academically, socially, and psychologically then kids who attend public schools. However, when you control for sociodemographic factors that typically direct which students are able to go to a private school ( a.k.a how much money your parents make) “all of the advantages of private school were eliminated.” 

The study also reported that “there was no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment.” 

Public vs. charter

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) evaluates students’ academic achievement at grade four, eight, and 12 levels in both private and public schools across the country. In 2017 they compared the reading and math test scores of grade eight students from traditional public schools and charter schools and found no measurable difference. (Note that these results were observed after controlling for parents’ educational attainment). 

Anecdotally, I know a lot of super amazing, smart, successful, and kind people who graduated from public school. I too graduated from public school and I hold no resentment towards my parents for not putting me in a private, charter, or homeschooling situation. 

Public vs. homeschooling

According to NHERI, homeschooled students “score above average on achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.” 

However, an article in the Studies in Educational Evaluation Journal proposes that comparing academic achievement in public school to academic achievement in homeschool is not comparing apples to apples. The study suggests that this is because it’s hard to know if the evaluation methods used to determine academic achievement in a homeschool environment are compatible with the teaching and education occurring within that context. 

So, when it comes to which is “better” academically or performance-wise the answer is murky at best. It depends more on what is the right fit for your child. 

Do people who attend one type of school make more money as adults?

Honestly, when researching the answer to this question you can find evidence to support each type of schooling. Proponents of private school will give you evidence to suggest that your child will have a higher earning potential if they go private. Proponents of public and charter schools will have their own evidence to suggest that a public education is the way to reach success, as will the homeschoolers. 

What’s important to remember is that your children’s school is one variable in their lives. You want to know two variables that are more likely to contribute to your child’s future earning potential – their socioeconomic background (how much money do their parents make) and their parents’ educational level (high school degree vs. master or doctorate).

As a parent, I get that we all want to do right by our children. But, when it comes to trying to predict their future earning potential I have to stop and shake my head. Yes, we want our kids to find financial security but when it comes to their education shouldn’t we be more worried about finding a school that supports their learning style, challenges their amazing aptitude for curiosity, and encourages them to see the beauty in diversity and new ideas? 

And, if you feel bad because you live in a not-so-stellar school district and don’t have the means to relocate, remember this. School in the traditional sense of the word is just one way that you learn. There are so many other ways to encourage your children’s development and challenge their curiosity. Bring home mountains of free library books and teach them the joy of reading. Take them outside in nature and explore, you can even use YouTube to learn about new places and cultures.  

Is the cost of each type of school worth it?

Private School Vs. Public School Vs. Charter Schools Vs. Homeschooling: Weighing The Costs And Financial Benefits - Is the cost of each type of school worth it?

Now I hope you’re armed with a lot more information when it comes to evaluating which type of school is best for your kids and your family. There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to school. Every kid is different, the way they learn is different, the schools are different, the teachers are different. There are simply too many variables to say which one is better, or worth more than the other. What you value is ultimately going to be different than what I value. 

When it comes to finding the right fit, this is a mental calculation you will have to perform with your family. If you’re struggling to choose between all of the options the first question you can ask yourself is, “can I afford private school?” If you have to choose between paying your child’s tuition and keeping the lights on in your house, maybe private school isn’t the right choice. 

Summary

When deciding on which type of school to send your child to, remember, based on the research, your kids will have the opportunity to succeed in life regardless of the type of school they go to. There are many things that are more likely to improve your kids’ chances of success and a better financial outcome – like having a loving parent and someone they can consistently count on. 

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About the author

Jessica Martel picture
Total Articles: 24
Jessica Martel is a freelance writer, professional researcher, and mother of two rambunctious little boys. She’s interested in all things related to personal finance, psychology, and parenting. You can connect with Jessica on her website The Financial Graduate, Linkedin, or Twitter.