Oct 3, 2007

What we're giving up for private school and why

I've mentioned before that we'll be sending the boys to private school when they reach kindergarten age, and I'm a little hesitant to talk about this because you, my valued readers, may very well think less of me for it given the high cost. However, you should know that this wasn't a decision we made lightly - we thought long and hard about paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 per year per child if they go to one of the top schools. (The figure goes up to $35,000 for seventh grade and up. No, that's not a typo.)

We considered other options (and I'll write about them separately), but it comes down to safety and academics. While we (thankfully) don't live in a gang-infested neighborhood, we do not live in a gang-free area (is there such a place in LA these days?). And the more distance we can put between our children and gang members the better (without actually moving to a new house - more on that in a forthcoming post also).

Equally important as safety, our local public schools at best have a mediocre academic reputation, while the top private schools send their graduates to the nation's top colleges. Because Marc and I both received first-class private school educations and attended highly ranked universities, giving our children the same opportunities is a top priority. And I freely admit that comfort level plays a role in our decision - because it is what we know, we think we'll be more comfortable in a private school environment. And our comfort level will be a huge factor in our children's comfort level . . . even if the other children's parents make ten times more than we do.

And speaking of money - yes, we can afford this while still saving enough for retirement, but barely. Obviously, we would have a more comfortable retirement if we directed the tuition money into retirement accounts instead, but according to my calculations, we'll manage to save enough. In addition to a more cushy retirement, we'll also be giving up things like a bigger house, vacations, and college savings. Marc and I agreed that paying for college was less of a priority than paying for private school, since there are alternatives for college tuition, like state universities, merit and athletic scholarships, etc. We also agreed that what the boys learn academically and socially during their childhood is much more important than which college they end up attending.

Incidentally, whether our children would attend private or public school is a conversation Marc and I started having before Alex was even conceived. This helped tremendously with our financial planning - I'll also discuss this in more detail in the future, but for now it's enough to say that a big part of how we will be able to pay for private school is because we have planned ahead.


Anonymous said...

stupid. stupid. stupid. very big mistake. I'd move out of there and get my kids to a safer neighborhood. you are very selfish. $20,000 for kindergarten. sweetheart, when you are old and gray I hope your kids throw you a bone because you are throwing your lives away. and for what?
if you were the CFO of a corporation and spent like this, you'd be fired.

Mercedes said...

"We also agreed that what the boys learn academically and socially during their childhood is much more important than which college they end up attending."

Are you serious with this quote? do you right now live off of what you learned in elementary and high school? I don't think so.
I would be out of there in no time. There are many, many other metropolitan areas where you can have the things that you like in LA, keep your standard of living and be able to send your kids to public school without compromising your retirement and their college education.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! I send my child to a private Lutheran school. The tuition is a lot less than you are planning to spend, but if you have the money, I think your decision is sound. I'll also be sending her to private high school. We started with Lutheran school because our neighborhood school was not very good academically. We've since moved and the neighborhood school is much, much better but I've chosen to stay with our private school because they support my Christian values, the class size is small, and the school is strong academically.

Yes, you are making sacrifices. I personally could not afford to pay this much, especially for two students, but if you can, go for it.

By the way, you may be able to pay for at least part of their college anyway - if you're paying 20K for tuition now, you're pretty close to college tuition anyway!

Anonymous said...

Good heavens, people have some very bitter comments to make about other people's choices.

I sort of agree that its what you learn in elementary school that's important if that means things like learning how to learn. People could certainly do worse than attend a public university like Berkeley or UNC-CH.

Kacie said...

You know what's best for your family--don't let some anonymous people in the blogosphere tell you how to live your life.

I'm a product of public schooling in the Midwest, and I remember that I enjoyed it a lot. I went on to a public university and am a freelancer by choice. Good things can happen in the public schools, but there are plenty of problems within them.

Safety is certainly important, so if that means paying $20k/year/child, then that's your option to use.

Besides, if private school eats too much into the family finances by the time your children are ready for college, they can always get scholarships and loans.

Anonymous said...

We sent our kids to private school as well, because we wanted the spiritual community and education for them as well as topnotch academics. Our son switched to a magnet school in 6th grade; our daughter went all the way through.
All educational decisions are challenging. I miss the old days of my midwestern childhood where there was one public school and you went there, period.
Do note, though, Chief Family Manager, that there are lots of hidden costs in private schooling. Expensive, fancy parties and travel are the norm, you will be spending a lot of time chauffeuring your kids to farflung destinations, and the extracurriculars also pack on the charges. Plus for 'tweens and teens there is the peer pressure. My daughter felt poor (which she decidedly is not) when she did NOT receive a car for her 16th birthday.
However, she got enormous nurturing in small classes with close relationships to teachers, and lifelong friendships. It's hard to put a price tag on that.
My son's public school experience was much less satisfying, both socially and academically.
Good luck with the school! I hope it has a little diversity. Also watch out for the Alpha Moms who like to control the kids' consumer choices and social ranking. They are scary!!

Anonymous said...

Have you thought of homeschooling?

Anonymous said...

If the public school if your area is very good, would you still send your kids to private school?

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

Thanks for all your comments - I had a feeling this would be a controversial topic and I was right!

Anonymous said...

Private school is a very good choice in my book, if you can afford it. I don't understand what people think is stupid about this choice, especially if one believes that their public school district isn't that great even if their residential district is. This is the case with our location. We will never trade our neighborhood for anything else, but our district does not have everything we would like in a school (like so many public school districts in California). And no, we will not move away from our home just because we are unhappy with the schools. We'd prefer to sacrifice to be able to have the options to choose the school for our children.

If we instead decided to move to a neighborhood with a "superb" school district, the logistics would not work in terms of being close to family, work and friends. Either that or we'd have to spend a MINIMUM of $1 million for a modest roof over our heads. Such is the price of California homes today, unfortunately. That is the price to belong to a highly touted school district.

Just for the record, most people I know at work who are average hard-working middle class people are sending their kids to private school. Only a minority of people I know have kids in public school (and those families live in Palo Alto, where the average price of a 40 year old house is $1.25 million). Quite a surprise for me actually but validates this preference and the practicality of this choice in this part of the world.

MCM Voices said...

There are so many immeasurables in a kid's educational path. For example, my town has a good public school system, but beginning in middle school there is the drug and alcohol subculture there nevertheless. Private schools aren't immune to that unfortunately, one must always be vigilant.

My siblings and I all went to private school in NYC and it was wonderful. I wish I could give that experience to my children too. As it is, we have to do the next best thing - try to do everything possible at home to teach them good study habits as well as the personal tools to resist social pressure to do the wrong thing (which we would be teaching them no matter where they went to school).

I admire you for setting your priorities and making them work for you financially. I know I'll be waiting a while, but I do look forward to hearing how it works out for you!

Anonymous said...

I understand your concern, and it's admirable that you are going to make sacrifices to send your children to private school, but wouldn't the more admirable sacrifice be to move to a safer, cheaper location with better public schools? I live in an area with terrible public schools, gang violence etc. (although my particular neighborhood is a nice gated community in that area - a "starter neighborhood"). We will relocate to a smaller town with better schools in the next 2-3 years. We'll be further from family and friends but we feel that if the area is bad enough that the only option is private schools, the area may not be a good one to live in overall.

At the end of the day it's a personal choice, but unfortunately in the US the slow but inevitable drain of middle class families out of public schools is going to have gruesome consequences for the nation in the long run. I think public education is a cornerstone of our nation and its decline is the nation's decline. It is an awful and sad comment to have to say that your primary concern about schooling is safety, not education - but that's what we've come to.

Anonymous said...

I am the product of priviate school education all except for kindergarden. (only b/c there was none). My parents were teachers in the public scholl sysem I would have attended. Many would wonder why. Two reason 1 religion, my father was a histroy teacher and he wanted me and my teachers to bea able to use religion as part of the discussion. 2 higher parental involvement in the school. It was never for acendemic. For example I would have attended the school where my father taught he always maintained that if you took his top kids and the top kids from my school we would be equal.

Anonymous said...

What about the other choice no one has even mentioned. Move to the nicest neighborhood possible. It's what everyone else does.

Good public schools are ten times better than mediocre private schools, which sap resources for practically no benefit. Now, if we are talking about elite private schools, there really is no substitute, but that would cost far more than 35K.