Nov 2, 2009

Public vs. Private School: Resolving our dilemma

One year ago, I was agonizing over whether to send our boys to public or private school. In our area, most parents in our socio-economic class seem to have this debate. I've discussed it countless times, and in the last year, I've done a ton of research into the topic. I've learned about the public school options, researched magnet schools in particular, attended an information fair put on by LAUSD, attended open houses, sought out other parents, and generally became a sponge for any and all information on the topic.

The bottom line conclusion we've reached is that our local public school is as good as any private school that we can currently afford. The very best private schools, at $20,000 per year per child, are simply out of our price range right now.

We'll be revisiting this topic as middle school approaches, because our conclusion currently applies only to the local elementary school. But for now, we're quite at peace with our decision. Of course, the real test will be next fall, when kindergarten actually becomes a part of our lives.

In the meantime, for parents who are experiencing the same dilemma, I highly recommend being as proactive as possible. Reach out to other parents, read informational booklets and web sites, and attend any events that are open to the public. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at how well-run the events at the public school were, and it gave me a chance to meet some of the teachers, administrators and parents. I've gotten to know a few moms whose kids are kindergarteners at the public school this year, and seeing their satisfaction with the school has been extremely encouraging.

One final note: I've been keeping a close eye on the web site for LAUSD's Choices program, through which you apply for magnet schools and such. It appears there is not going to be an informational session this year, which I'm guessing is a casualty of this year's steep budget cuts.

Image credit: School Crossing Safety Sign at

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Mama Bird said...

I have to say that I am a big public school advocate. If everyone who invested their money and time in private schools, instead invested them in the public school system, then parents wouldn't have to make these types of decision because our public school system would be what it should be. Every kid should have FREE access to a GREAT education in this country, one of the "richest countries in the world".

Anonymous said...

Hey Mama Bird, just so you know us parents who pay for private schools for our kids are ALREADY paying taxes that support public schools - even if we don't send our kids there.

Also, public schools get gobs of money by proposing millages, which every one tends to vote yes for. Tax payers who don't even have kids support public schools this way. It's way easier for a public school system to propose a millage than it is to change laws to divert more funding to them.

I am only slightly bothered by this because a well funded public school system will come back around to boost the property value of my home.

Otherwise, my real life experiences have been that even with public schools with funding that dwarfs private schools, the private schools still outperform. Throwing money at something doesn't always fix it.

This is not to say I hate public schools, I just think parents should have a right to choose which one they want.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Mama Bird - What you say may be true in a small school district, but is really not practical in a HUGE school district like LAUSD. As Anon pointed out, we all pay taxes to support the public schools, but those taxes must be distributed over an enormous population.

Or perhaps you're suggesting that those parents who pay $20,000 per year to a top private school all donate that money to the public schools instead? That might have a substantial impact on the public school system, but I can certainly understand why parents wouldn't want to do that - I wouldn't, if I had that kind of money!

Dr. Mom said...

I understand your dilemma! We actually moved into an area with great public schools just for that reason. We figured we'd either pay for our kids with a higher mortgage or with private school. We chose mortgage, and then I applied to our local district's year-round public school where there is a lottery to get in. We were lucky enough to get in with our first child so that all three can attend. Out of the 100 kindergartners who began this year, 73 were siblings of children already attending.

It's tough making a decision of where to send your kids, especially if you are in an area where the quality of education is in question. I am happy to support public schools financially through taxes. However, I am unwilling to support them through attendance by sending my kids to them for a poor education.

Mama Bird said...

I certainly didn't mean to offend those who chose to send their kids to private schools. Education is very important to me and for my kids. If I thought my kids were not getting what they needed at a public school, then I would definitely consider private school. My husband went to private Catholic school K-12.

I have seen, however, in my own neighborhood's school, how a school in trouble can be completely turned around to the top performing elementary school in the city through parental involvement. My neighborhood is a 'transitional' neighborhood and over the past 5-6 years the school has completely morphed into a great one. Now those parents are moving on to the middle school and working on that one too. Private schools tend to have much more of parental involvement (and money). But, I feel, having parents who are involved can make all the difference. Unfortunately a lot of those parents tend to choose private schools instead.

I'm happy that those parents in my neighborhood took the harder road and chose to make our neighborhood elementary school great instead of all choosing to send their kids elsewhere. Now we have a great place that we can all benefit from and new parents can feel good about and continue to make great.

And I'm not saying that parents should throw tons of extra money at public schools that they would have spent on private schools, but fundraisers would be a hell of lot easier...just sayin'. :)

And yes, I know taxes pay for public schools. But Anonymous, I don't know what state you are in but people in our state DON'T vote for increases that will pay for the lacking in our school budgets. And I am not in a well funded public school area. Our schools are partially funded by property taxes which are determined by your zip code, meaning the wealthier zip codes get more money, so their schools always get more....very unfair system if you ask me. So the poor areas continue to get slighted.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Mama Bird - I definitely hear ya! Our local public school has gone through that very transformation since we moved into our house 7 years ago. That's why we started from the position of thinking private school was the only way, and why I've been so pleasantly surprised at how good the school is now. And definitely, the strong PTA has a lot to do with that. But still, if I could afford the $20K per year (and then the $30+K per year for middle and high school), I would go that route and give my kids the very best education they could have.

Also, I think Anon is probably in California like me. Unfortunately, we have the completely messed up initiative system (which I absolutely LOATHE), which allows interest groups to circumvent safeguards and ask voters to approve the sale of bonds. It happens so often here, and it always stuns me how many people vote Yes on these things. And yes, this is one more way in which CA is totally screwed up. Now I have to go remind myself of the reasons why I love living here :)