There are a lot of discretionary expenses that we incur every day. Whether we spend more for a brand name product or save money on a generic product is entirely up to each individual buyer. Whether we should buy a new car or a used car or go without a car is also an individual decision. Indeed, personal finance sites are largely devoted to helping readers find ways to reduce discretionary spending without sacrificing quality of life.
So today you may find it odd that I am going to make the case for spending a lot of money for a service that you can otherwise get for free – private or parochial school for your children. I would have been surprised by such a notion until a few years ago, too. When my kids were young, I vowed that they would never go to a private school. Public education was rock solid in my opinion and I was willing to make that case to anyone who would listen. I was misinformed and my concept of public education was many years out of date.
Before I go any further, let me also add that my criticism of the public school system is not based on criticism of its teachers. Although both of my children now attend parochial schools, they did attend public school for a few years and we were generally very impressed with the quality of the teachers. Unfortunately, that was the only thing that impressed us.
Of course, I also would not criticize any parent who truly favors public school over a private or parochial education. Parenting is a very personal decision and I respect that. Nevertheless, if you are considering educational options for your kids, you might also want to consider the following reasons that we have for making private/parochial education our single greatest expense after our mortgage.
Less Violence: Our local public schools are “A” schools, as rated by our state. They also have very disruptive environments and, often, even violent environments. With larger class sizes and a wide range of academic abilities represented in each class, it is much harder for teachers to keep control. Harassment and bullying are very common. By comparison, we have found that in our local parochial schools, harassment and bullying are virtually non-existent. This results in a much better learning environment because there is no environment of intimidation.
Uniforms: Because private and parochial schools require students to wear uniforms, there is no arguing in the morning about whether clothing is appropriate for school. There is also no competition among the students to look the best. Uniforms make shopping for school clothes much easier and they cut down on the cost of clothing because a child wearing a uniform to school usually only needs two identical outfits (with one being worn and the other in the wash each day).
No State Mandated Testing: Private and parochial schools do not typically give the same assessment tests that many states (perhaps all) mandate for their public schools. As a result, private and parochial schools do not have to “teach for the test” and can emphasize a broader based curriculum. This allows each student to perform to his or her level without being held back by students whose performance has not yet reached its potential.
Improved College Transcripts: Based on the colleges that have accepted students from our local private schools, college admissions people give added weight to attendance at competitive parochial and private schools. Also, because private and parochial schools tend to offer a more rigorous curriculum than public schools, students attending private and parochial school should be better prepared for the demands of college.
Money Spent on High School can be saved When in College: We have neighbors who are not happy with the local public schools but they are adamant that they will not move their kids out of the public school system. Instead, they have saved a HUGE amount of money (with a goal of $500,000 by the time their two young sons are 18) so that they can send their boys to private colleges. We take a very different approach and would rather spend money (but much, much less than $500,000 – an amount that I cannot even begin to fathom) on primary and secondary education.
That is not to say that we don’t plan on helping our boys with college, but college can be much less expensive than private and parochial high school. We pre-paid our sons’ tuition in our state’s pre-paid college program many years ago. As a result, they can attend any of our state’s public colleges or universities without paying any tuition. Our pre-paid cost was about $7,000 per child and for that each will be able to attend a good four year undergraduate school, several of which are highly competitive. (Of course, they need to be accepted for admission, and that we will learn pretty soon!). Ultimately, we would rather pay for a solid education before college because we believe that without it, they will not be able to perform as well in college.
More Involved Parents: At our parochial high school, the parents are much more involved than the parents at our local public high school. The classes are also much smaller so it is very easy to get to know the parents and the other children. Of course, there are also a lot of great communities where the public schools can result in close-knit associations, but it is much easier to foster a sense of community in a small parochial or private school than in a larger public school (our local high school as 8,000 students as compared to 1200 at the local parochial high school).
One Free Night Per Week (Maybe!) When our sons were in elementary school, they had to attend religious education one night per week. After they left the public school, they received their religious education in class and thus we all got a free night that we otherwise would have spent driving kids to class. Religious education cost about $200 per year so that amount was also “saved” and could be applied to their tuition.
Each of us has reasons for the educational decisions that we make for our children. I do not stand in criticism of any decisions that you or your family members may make, but I do hope that if you can find a way to afford a private or parochial education, you will at least consider it. My wife and I make sacrifices to ensure the best possible education for our kids, and we are convinced that we have made a sound decision.
What do you think? Are private and parochial school worth the investment? Do you live in a community with public schools that are strong and that you would not consider leaving? Have you had a bad experience with a private or parochial school?