Oct 17, 2008

A new wrinkle to the public vs. private school dilemma: Should I stay home?

Not surprisingly, the issue of whether to work outside the home has been an ongoing one for me since Alex was born. Before that - say, five years ago - I would have told you that I would always work outside the home. I'd gone to an excellent law school, worked hard, and gotten my first choice job upon graduation. I enjoyed my work and I was good at it.

And then, Marc and I decided to have a baby. I suffered my first miscarriage five years ago last month. That, followed by a second miscarriage four months later, changed everything for me. I became so focused on having a baby that work became secondary. And to be honest, it's never regained its previous status as a major priority in my life.

My long-term goals are no longer career oriented. So as Alex approaches kindergarten age, I find myself pondering my own options.

I finally ran the numbers and concluded that yes, we can afford for me to quit my job if Alex attends public school. I'm not saying that I would definitely want to quit my job if I had the option, but at least it is now an option. However, if we decide that private school is right for him, then I'll have to keep working in order to pay his tuition.

I could, of course, work at home. And I have no doubt that I would, regardless of whether the boys go to public or private school. But I have doubts about whether I could guarantee enough income working from home to cover two private school tuitions (since Tyler would be joining Alex in just two years).

Needless to say, my research into our local public schools has become a greater priority than my research into the private schools. While I'll still compile a short list of schools in the next year, my focus is now going to be on whether there's a good reason not to send the boys to the local elementary school.

The public school is holding an open house for prospective families next month. Stay tuned!


Camille said...

My husband is a public high school teacher in Vegas and we've started this debate already and our oldest is only 2! Our public schools here are not good (even the "good" ones are behind the national averages). We've even considered moving to a new state to get in better districts.

Just some things to think about:
1) Charter Schools -- we don't have many here, but CA may (AZ has tons!). They are tuition free and often are better schools. If you are home with your kids, you'll have the freedom to drive them to school wherever it may be located!

2) Zone Variance -- check out other schools that you are not zoned for and if you find one you like, try to get your kids in there. Again, if you are home, you can drive your kids wherever you need to go.

3) Staying involved -- my husband's most successful students are the ones where the parent(s) are involved. I think a plus to staying home is that you can go in and volunteer. This will also allow you to see what goes on in the classroom daily. And if you end up not liking what you see, you can move your kids out.

Anonymous said...

That's a lot to think about. (I totally hear you about how miscarraige changes your thinking, too.)

We have me staying home now, because it seems like that is helpful as we work on the health stuff in hopes of getting a live baby. Also, my husband has a lot on his plate with a full time job and a dissertation to finish. It has made our life so much better, and I just love it. With kids, I wouldn't want to do it any other way, but that's just me. You are very good at saving now - impressively so - but you may find more ways if you are at home. Along with some work, it may be much less of a change than a total loss of your income.

I hear you on the "but look at my good education" thing too. I went to one of the top schools in the country for my undergraduate degree, and the best there was for my masters. It was easier for me to walk away because I didn't love my profession after 5 years at it, but I've also found that it just gets easier with time. What looks the most important at 22 is not necessarily the as now. So don't let that hold you back - go with what you really feel is best.

Good luck,

michellenotdawn said...

Have you considered homeschooling? Where I live (Tallahassee, FL) there are numerous co-ops so you don't have to worry about lack of socialization. I've got a graduate degree myself and loved my job, but I know that the place I'm meant to be is here at home with however many children we're blessed with. It has proven very convenient right now, since the 2 year old boy just broke his femur yesterday and is in a body cast for 4-6 weeks!
Sorry for the random fact, but I encourage you to look into homeschooling with an open mind - after all, who knows best how your children learn?

Anonymous said...

Have you looked into the scholarships and other tuition perks the private schools offer? I know our private school offers tuition assistance to low income students(a certain amount of students).I know there is tuition assistance out there, but you do have to dig for it for the private schools.
The schools aren't real forthcoming with the information for obvious reasons but it is there.

Anonymous said...

Our four kids (6 to 17) are in a private school. I have some reasons for sending them to a private school.

1) The private school is teaching the same values that they are learning at home.

2)Our ACT scores are some of the highest in the state.

3)The classes are smaller, therefore the kids get more attention.

4) They have most of the same teachers all through high school. This allows them to understand learning styles, strenths and weaknesses to a greater degree and can challenge them or make the work easier.

5)There is a high degree of accountability. The teachers contact us whenever there is a problem looming, such as not knowing math facts well enough, they are isolating themselves and not making friends, they are losing their temper. These are all problems my kids have encountered in the last year. And the teachers had great solutions.

6)They get better parts in plays or more playing time in sports, solos in concerts because the school is smaller. My daughter is on varsity VB and they might make it to state. She wouldn't even be playing VB in the local public school.

I don't know if you can get all these things in a public school but I treasure our school. We have given up a lot to send them there but we have some great kids because of it. I only work part time at home. My income pays for their schooling. We have scholarships that help also.

Super Saver said...


For us the solution was to move to an excellent public school district. We used to live in a city school district, which was poor at best. When we returned from an overseas assignment, we made the school district quality a top five priority for our housing decision.

I attended a parochial elementary school and high quality public high school. High quality is the key parameter. The HS I attended makes the Newsweek top 1000 high schools every year, just as does the HS in our current school district.

Finally, I think parental involvement is every bit as important as the school. While I don't have the data, I believe parents of private school students tend to be more involved.

Mercedes said...

I know this is a hard decision to make. I am following your decision process with you. I can't wait for the next step.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Camille - Alex is only three and I've been thinking about this for a while, so you're definitely not alone! I'm just talking about it more since we would be applying to private schools next year. Thanks for your suggestions - we have lots of magnet schools, which I'll write more about soon, and which we are definitely interested in. And I will definitely be an involved parent, no doubt about that!

@Jennifer - Yes, I know you definitely get it. I actually don't think I would miss the work itself anymore, because you're absolutely right: I definitely don't feel the same way about my career as I did when I first graduated and started working!

@Michelle - I'm sorry about your son's injury, but very glad that he'll be okay! I can see how homeschooling would make dealing with that easier. I've definitely considered it but I just don't think it would be right for us for a number of reasons. I am curious to see how the challenge to the CA law requiring homeschooling parents to have a teaching degree turns out, though.

@Anon - Thanks for pointing that out. I've always assumed that we would be above the income threshold, but you're right, it's worth looking into.

@Chris - Thank you for sharing your reasons. They are definitely part of our equation as well, and ones we'll continue to consider.

@Super Saver - I would agree with you on parental involvement, which is one reason why I was initially inclined toward private school. But it turns out that our excellent public elementary school has extremely active parents as well. We might consider moving for a better middle/high school, though.

Anonymous said...

My dh and I struggle with this too. I always assumed I would WOH and that our kids would attend parochial school. But we have begun to rethink that lately. Sending the kids to private schools means that we would always have to be a dual income family so if I lost my job I would HAVE to find a new one. While I work for a stable company, you just never know what the future holds. Plus, I want to be an involved parent, I want to help my kids with their homework and that would be dificult to do when I get home at 5:30 or 6pm.

After we had my dd 3yrs ago we decided that these early years are easier to be dual income because the kids are in daycare for the whole day and don't have homework or extracurricular activities. But I may - hopefully, probably - SAH when dd is in first grade and they will attend public school. The schools here are good for elementary school but mediocre for high school. So the plan is that I will return to work when the kids are older and then send them to private high school. This seems to be the right compromise for us.

Best of luck with your decision.

Anonymous said...

If you can stay home I would suggest it. You can't get the years back when you're kids are older. Sacrafice (smaller home, no housecleaner/gardner etc..) can make it possible. I stay home with my 3 kids and they will all eventually be in Catholic school. I have no plans to return to work since I consider being a Mom my full time job plus the cost of day care for 3 kids wouldn't justify my working. We live in a large townhouse and use the area parks almost daily. My kids have bikes, scooters etc..and are actually outside more than their friends with backyards! I believe it's all about choices/priorities and you can make it work if you really look at where your spending $. My friends that work outside the home are always super stressed and trying to play catch up all weekend instead of spending time with their kids/hubby. It is possible - we live in a suburb of LA and do it. Granted we don't have a ton of extra cash left over each paycheck but enough to save for tuition for the next year and go out on a date night some. Good luck with your decision. Whatever you decide I'm sure it'll be what's best for you and your family.
Erika in CA

Chief Family Officer said...

@Erika - You make excellent points. With us, a big part of the picture is about being able to pay for private school, or at least, wanting to wait until we know for sure that public school is going to be okay with us. I'll keep you updated on that!