Private School or College Savings?

As a parent of a young boy, I’m very concerned about the best educational path for him. As we sock money away for his college fund, I’ve been considering the concept of private school for him in the back of my mind.

I recently stumbled across an article entitled Private School vs. College Savings: Which is the Better Investment For Your Kids?:

Okay, I admit it somewhat sheepishly, I send my kids to private school. It’s easy to justify since I live in an urban neighborhood where the district public schools just aren’t all that well-regarded. And man, my kids’ elementary school is nice. Large, sunny classrooms, awesome teachers, great facilities and “specials” galore like gym, art, music, foreign languages. The kids love it.

[…] I hope it will turn out, as the principal of their school asserts, that the kids are getting such a great educational foundation that spending so much money on elementary school will make sense in the long run. Ripping them out of a school they love certainly doesn’t seem like a good choice right now.

The extensive comments on this article seem to reflect the same basic idea: if the school district in your area isn’t strong or reflective of your values, then you should strongly consider private school. What do you want your child to get out of education? Core knowledge and skills? Social skills? Manners and respect for others? Some of these are well-served in public school settings, while others are not. Once you’ve determined these, you should look for metrics by which you can gauge a school’s performance. Test scores can often indicate academic performance, while attendance numbers can reflect social information.

Once you’ve determined what you’re looking for, you need to find out if your local public school district meets the needs of your child adequately enough. How do you find out? Do your research. Most states have school report cards that provide extremely detailed metrics on many different dimensions of the public school experience. For example, Iowa offers, which gives great comparisons between specific districts and the state averages in many different metrics. You can also find out anecdotal information by asking around in the community and also attending public school events.

One also needs to consider the financial picture. Private schooling is quite expensive: the median tuition for private day schools in the United States is about $12,000 for grades 1 to 4, $13,000 for grades 5 to 8 and $15,000 for grades 9 to 12. Those numbers alone put private school out of reach for many of us, even if we’re already saving for our child’s college fund.

My current plan is to send my son to the local public school through at least eighth grade. Up to that point, I am confident in my own skill in supplementing his education in certain areas, particularly given that my wife is a teacher. Once he finishes eighth grade, we’ll see where he is at both socially (is he respectful and so forth) and academically and determine whether a private school would be better for him to grow as he readies himself for college.  Another benefit is that he will have a well-stocked 529 college savings account at this time, which will help pay for private schooling if that is the route we choose.

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