How to Save on Primary Education

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There’s a lot of discussion and talk about public versus private universities and how to get the most bang for your buck in the arena of college, but often overlooked is options for primary (ie. K-12) education. Some people believe in using the public schools while others believe in sending their kids to a private school, but there is lots of middle ground.

We spent a lot of time this year looking for that middle ground. My oldest child will be starting kindergarten this fall, and although I find a lot of positives in our school district as a whole, my particular local option falls short in our eyes. While our particular neighborhood local public option leaves a lot to be desired, yet we couldn’t fathom how we would be able to afford the private options in our area. We felt there had to be some compromise we could find, and we were right, we just had to know where to look.

Resources and Questions to Ask

I used a variety of resources to research our options for my son this fall. He is currently enrolled in a special education public school program, so I asked his teachers for recommendations. I used some online resources such as to look at ratings from parents and teachers as well as standardized type scores. Finally, I called and visited prospective schools and asked a lot of questions.

What questions did I ask? Every situation is unique. For us, my son has a delay in verbal intelligence relative to his non-verbal intelligence. We looked for a school where he would be well-integrated and receive adequate resources to help him excel. Since you know your child, you’ll what questions to ask. Here are some things you should ask about:

  • Ratings (standardized tests)
  • Attendance levels
  • Special education programs
  • After school and extracurriculars
  • Fine arts programs
  • Physical education programs

Primary School Options

  • Local public school: The first and simplest option is your local public school. Don’t assume that this option is settling for substandard. There are many public schools that are excellent, and yours may be one of them. Do the research, look at the ratings, and visit the local option.
  • District offers school choice: Our district offers school choice, in that we can apply to have our child attend any of the schools in our city. The process is one of lottery, so there is no guarantee on getting into a different school, but the option is there to attempt.
  • Charter schools: There is in our city several charter schools, some free of charge to residents. One of these programs may be a better fit for your child than your local option.
  • Religious schools: If you are of a particular religious faith (or even if you are not) a religion-based program may have better tuition rates than another private school.
  • Private school: There is as well this option – usually the most expensive but many have assistance programs you may qualify for.

Don’t assume expensive is best! We’ve all been conditioned, by advertising or nurture or some combination, to assume that the most expensive option is the best option. You get what you pay for after all, right? However, as in every saying there is some truth and some fallacy. You do get what you pay for, to some degree, but there is a wide range of good and better hidden amongst any options.

Consider your options and get the best bang for the buck for your child. Don’t bankrupt yourself sending your child to private school but don’t compromise on their education. There are always options and a middle ground may be reached.

In our case, my son was accepted into another local public school through the lottery system that I felt was a better choice for his needs. And the best part is that it’s no farther from our house than his original elementary school and it is still free!

(Photo: mrhayata)

{ 27 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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27 Responses to “How to Save on Primary Education”

  1. Trish says:

    Don’t forget to ask about cyber school (virtual school) options in your state. We’re in PA and there are 11 virtual schools where students in grades K-12 can attend school from home via the internet. They are public schools…paid for by your local school tax. For more info visit:

    Several other states have similar programs. Try doing a Google search to see if your state offers this type of program. It’s a rapidly growing form of public eduction.

  2. CW says:

    There is another school option called “Homeschool”.

    • saladdin says:

      true if money is your only motivation. as much as people talk bad about public schools can the average person really know enough to teach their kid?


  3. Rob O. says:

    My big issue is that even if you decide that a private school is the best option for your child, you’re stuck paying for school twice. Yup, twice. Public school is anything but free. In many areas, mine included, local school taxes account for more than half of your property taxes. That’s not an insignificant amount!

    And as a homeowner, you pay that regardless of whether you have no children or a whole brood of ’em! I’m rather chapped that my wife & I have been paying out the nose for a public utility that we’ve had no child to use for the past 20 years! And if we opt not to use the public school system for our child, we’ll still be paying regardless!

    I believe that public school taxes should be a separate tax that comes into play when you actually use the resource. And perhaps if more parents had to pay according to their use of said resource, they’d be a bit more mindful of how well their children were participating.

    • While I understand your frustration in paying for a public resource that you don’t use, the alternative is a DISASTER. Should all who do not have children in school be opted out of the system, education becomes a very expensive proposition. Considering the median household income is around $50k and dropping, the current cost of education would be near impossible for most families. In addition, having more than one child would certainly be problematic financially. Not to mention the consequential reduction in population which would cause a litany of other problems.

      While it’s annoying to pay for services not rendered, we can all agree that education is an imperative to any developed civilization. Imagine a world where so many couldn’t afford an education and suddenly the country collapses. It’s really as simple as that. If it makes you feel better, just think of it as contributing to the greater good and protecting your self interests–property values, investments, etc. Without affordable education, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today–economically speaking.

    • saladdin says:

      what about single people with no kids?


  4. Second for homeschool. Look it up.

  5. Rob, how short sighted. You benefit from having your neighbor’s children educated, would you rather them be uneducated delinquents who are a drain on the society you live in? When you are old and retired those kids will be the workers paying taxes and supporting the society you enjoy. They’ll be the doctor who takes care of you and the policeman who protects you. No man is an island.

  6. While Rob is right that we pay for our public schools and OUGHT to be able to use them, the fact is that in many parts of the country no parent who cares about his or child’s education would put a kid in any such place. It frosts my cookies, too, that my ex- and I had to pay through the schnozzola to put our son in a private religious school, where he learned a few things that we considered to be claptrap (like the day he came home and told me that if he got sick all he had to do is pray and God would make him well — my grandmother died unnecessarily in her early 40s because of that kind of thinking). But we really had no choice.

    Be careful with charter schools. Some are very good. Some cater to children with behavioral problems, and so may not be appropriate for a child who does not face those challenges. And some are no better than the ordinary public school you’re trying to escape.

    Some communities have magnet schools (though maybe not on the primary level). These are generally better, at least in specific areas, than the run of the mill. Also, if you qualify you can get scholarships and discounts from some private schools.

    If I had it to do over again, I’d consider homeschooling, although I think to achieve truly outstanding results you have to possess a level of expertise that no one person is likely to have.

  7. Scott says:

    Be wary of private schools that reside in very good public school districts. Where I grew up the public school district is perenially in the top 50 in the country and the private schools are where the kids who were expelled from public school are sent. As a result, the private schools were much rougher and scored much lower on standardized tests. I realize this is probably a fairly unique case given society as a whole, but it’s something to think about.

  8. Suzanna says:

    Scott’s right. Private schools are often nothing more than “dumping grounds” for problem kids.

    Our local school district here in Wake County boasts of being one of the finest in the country, so of course it goes without saying that any kids who cause problems in school are promptly expelled even though by law they have to go to school. So where do all these juvenile delinquents end up? You guessed it… in the private schools!

    I used to think private education was the only way for a child to get a decent education. However, my children have had great success with homeschooling. I truly believe that if you want to ensure the best possible learning environment for your child, you need to to provide that environment yourself. You don’t need any special “expertise” to teach the basics to your own child. A good curriculum is really all you need.

  9. nickel says:

    We saved by buying in an area with good public schools. It’s *way* cheaper to spend a bit more on your house than it is to pay tuition for four kids.

  10. TeddieMao says:

    We moved this year just so our kids could go to a top public school. Basically for us it washes out (low city taxes plus private school tuition versus high suburb taxes)but I still haven’t researched what the school fees will be. i.e. books, computers, athletic and academic teams. I may end up paying more!

  11. sk says:

    Very interesting topic. When I bought this house I am currently in I was just looking at 5 years for my daughter to finish her Elementary. The middle school rating is not that great, but now I am stuck can not buy in a better middle school neighbourhood ’cause can’t sell this house in this market. So, you are right Jim to establish that middle ground. It is not feasible to just keep moving to better neighborhoods since there are so many factors that decide if you can buy or not. At the same time I agree we can not compromize with our children’s education.

  12. Rob O. says:

    I’ll admit that it may seem short-sighted, Miss M, that I’d prefer not to foot the education expenses for everyone else’s children. But where are you willing to draw the line with your civic-minded benevolence?

    That is, couldn’t you similarly argue that society as a whole benefits from children living in a well-lit environment? Yet, I suspect that you’d balk rather quickly at being asked to pay for a significant portion of your neighbor’s electricity. Okay, perhaps that’s a weak example, but surely you can concede that there’s a certain parallel to what you’ve suggested.

    I don’t mind helping to ensure that my community has access to educational resources, but I believe it should be – at a minimum – proportionate to the amount of that resource you actually use. Why should the same percentage of a single 20-something (with no kids) or a retired senior citizen’s taxes go to public school as the neighbor who has 4 school-age children?

    And I’d also suggest that – because my neighbors are largely an apathetic and uninvolved bunch of lugnuts – their children aren’t benefiting a tremendous amount from their begrudged stint in public school. I tend to believe that if you don’t take a certain amount of committed interest in your child’s education, the type of school (public, magnet, private, Christian, whatever…) isn’t going to make much of a difference.

    One last thing – if things were truly equitable, I should have (at any time during the past 2 decades that I’ve been paying property taxes) been fully within my civic rights to show up at school board and/or PTA meetings and voice my opinions about policies and educational directions. But… if a childless couple – much less a single guy – were to do so, I suspect there’s a fair chance that the community would run him out of town on a rail like some kinda pedophile or nutjob. And yet, I absolutely do NOT agree with many of the big-ticket items that my taxes have helped institute in my community’s schools. (I’m decidedly anti-technology in elementary school, for example.)

    • We’re talking about education and we live in a society that both values and REQUIRES education in order to function. I would encourage you to take an economics course and research the link between education and economic growth. When you’ve finished that, it should be clear that your point carries no weight.

      Now, if you want to talk about how well the system utilizes its funding, etc., then we can have a very lively discussion, but arguing against shared financial responsibility for a fundamental societal requirement is a non-starter.

      • saladdin says:

        i agree. there are 2 points here, don’t confuse the two. i have no kids, pay property taxes and have no bad feelings for doing so. just like i don’t mind paying taxes that are pooled for parks i rarely visit, roads i never drive on and firemen i never want to use.


  13. Jim:

    It’s good to know you were able to find the school that suited your needs. My son had speech delay due to a long series of ear infections. We wound up taking him to a speech therapist for a good while, but when he went to public school, he was still well behind his peers. It was suggested to us that we hold him back, but that was an unacceptable outcome in my mind. We elected to make some significant changes so that we could be around more and the school put him in a special program doing a lot of phonics and computer games to catch up. On the standardized tests, he went from the bottom quartile to the top quartile over the course of three years.

    There were many hours outside of school that were used to get him up to speed and it all worked out. The point I want to make is that the school is a big part of the equation, but it’s note the entire equation. Taking time to supplement and fill gaps is critical to a child’s educational experience. I think of Malcolm Gladwell and his story of rice paddies. There’s a good deal of truth in that chapter.

  14. Patrick says:

    It irritates me that even if you don’t like the local public school, you still have to pay to fund it. Going to private school is basically double-paying for school for our children. If we were given an allowance to spend on whatever school we wanted to go to, whether it be public or private school, private schools would be in massive demand.

    • saladdin says:

      we all pay for libraries we don’t use, roads we don’t drive on, parks we don’t visit. so i don’t see your point. this is the way our system works and it works pretty good, flawed but good.


      • Jim says:

        Do I use law enforcement? Not directly, but I’m glad they exist. 🙂

        • saladdin says:

          exactly. i just don’t like the idea of everyone paying taxes on the ratio of use/no use. i can just see it costing $20 to get into a park or a $500 bill for having a cop take a report when someone rear-ends you. i look at it kinda like insurance, i pay for this stuff (by citizens pooling money)whether i use it or not and have no qualms about it.


          • Jim says:

            With insurance, the safer subsidize the riskier… unfortunately, you don’t know which one you are. 🙂

  15. Rob O. says:

    I see the logic in, and am fine with, helping to fund civic services that I may not use, but I believe that if school taxes were handled a bit more proportionately, it’d be better for all.

    It hardly seems fair that I pay practically the same taxes as my neighbor when I have one child that’s 3 years away from being school age and they have four children all in public school. My neighbor should shoulder a more proportionate share of the taxation load since he’s using a far greater chunk of those civic resources.

    Perhaps if it was understood that your taxes will increase when you have a (each?) child, you might be more mindful about having that child and whether that’s something you’re truly financially prepared for.

    Lots of people have multiple kids with nary a thought to the considerable but somewhat intangible costs associated with doing so. I’m not trying to mandate whether people should have children – not at all – but I would like for people choosing to do so to apply plenty of forethought.

    • Jim says:

      Your idea sounds great in principle but consider how much it would cost to manage that sort of program. You’d need to change the way taxes are collected to account for children, you need people to keep track of your family size/address/personal details, and you’d need people to enforce it. I would argue that the increase in your taxes overall, just for this added infrastructure, would cut deep into the savings you’d get. Government is notoriously inefficient, no sense trying to make it MORE inefficient. 🙂

      • saladdin says:

        don’t forget property taxes are based on values of the house. if your neighbors tax rate went up (and yours down) wouldn’t he just dump the house and find something cheaper?

        what about people with 5 kids just renting? they would not pay any property tax(owner does) and you will still end up paying more.


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