Is Private Grade School K-12 Worth It?

Are you wondering whether private grade school K-12 is worth it? I am since I have two young children, one of which is grade school age.

During the pandemic, where many small businesses have been crushed, many families have decided private grade school K-12 is not worth it. As a result, private school enrollment is down. Instead, parents have decided to homeschool, as my wife and I currently have done since March 2020.

Now that the pandemic is over, I'm likely willing to spend money on the best education possible. Spending the most amount of time with our children before they become adults and providing a great education are the best gifts. But for now, we wait.

The problem with sending our kids to private grade school is a debate about fairness. Are we really going to live in a world where the rich continue to hoard their multi-generational fortunes while the rest just struggle to get by? Will the playing field continue to be so uneven that the middle class and poor must work twice as hard to get half as much?

Is Private Grade School Worth It? Things To Consider

Costs Are Out Of Control

College is either going to be prohibitively expensive in 20 years at its current rate of price increase ($100,000+/year for tuition) or it's going to be 100% free because society has changed the way we view the need for a college education due to technology. 

What a cruel world if only the rich or super smart can afford college. Are the rest of us supposed to work 70+ hours a week as janitors in order to make $270,000+ a year? I'm banking on college being more accessible to all in the future.

Inflation is already running very high. People are getting squeezed with higher food prices, gas prices, rent prices, home prices, medical costs, and now tuition. Your finances might not be able to handle rapid tuition increases.

You Might Not Find Happiness

What's the point of going to college? To try and get as prestigious a job as possible to make as much money as possible to raise kids that do the same thing? Since most people are unhappy with their jobs, the system seems broken.

If your family is already well to do, there doesn't seem to be a lot of purpose in pushing your kids to do things they don't absolutely love to do. Isn't it much better to just grow up to be a good person who does something useful for society instead?

You Will Feel Greater Pressure

What if you go to Harvard and end up doing nothing special? Was all the studying, stress, time and tuition all a waste? At my first job, we rejected kids from Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Brown, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown and Penn all the time. If you didn't have a consensus approval, you were out.

My job as a financial analyst working in the Equities department was nothing special, unless you count photocopying 100 pages a day and getting coffee for my senior colleagues special. So imagine getting rejected from nothing special.

You Might End Up At A Public University

What if you spend $300,000+ on private grade school and then end up going to your state's public university? Wouldn't it have been better to just go to public grade school instead?

I've done research on where several private schools' seniors attended, and the local state university is consistently in the top three schools for matriculation.

After typing out these thoughts, I've realized that I'm overly focused on achieving an optimal return on investment (ROI) as a financial blogger. After all, that's what financial people do. I want everybody's finances to never become a burden, only an enabler.

Let's talk about the softer side of why going to private grade school might just be the better option than going to public grade school. I think the argument to attend private grade school is easier to make than attending private university. 

Is Private Grade School Worth The Expense?

If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren.

I believe nurture is the biggest determinant of who we become as adults. We can argue whether nurture plays a 51% role or a 90% role compared to nature. But it's clear there's a strong correlation between how we raise our children and how good of a citizen our children turn out to be.

Yes, we should look closely at the parents of bullies, rapists, terrorists and killers. We should also speak to parents who raise entitled brats. There are differences between private and public school kids and graduates.

If any one of us gets a traffic violation, we've got to spent eight hours going to online traffic school to atone for our sins unless we want black marks on our driving record and higher insurance premiums for the next couple of years. An immediate fine is also a guarantee. Why shouldn't parents go through mandatory educational training as well if their kids do bad things before they become adults?

Given the importance of nurturing our kids, it's logical to conclude getting the best grade school education possible before adulthood is a good idea. We've only got one shot at raising our kids to be outstanding citizens.

After they turn 18, whether they go to public college, private college, community college, or no college is up to them because we've already provided them the best education possible to decide on their own.

Related: Public vs. Private University? It Depends On Your Fear And Guilt Tolerance

A Look Inside Punahou, A Private Grade School In Hawaii

To understand whether private grade school is worth it, I decided to do some first hand research at Punahou, one of the best private grade schools on Oahu. Punahou is the alma mater to President Obama, my aunt and two nieces.

Relatively Good Value

While it regularly costs $40,000+ in tuition plus another $25,000 in room and board and fees at many private universities, Punahou is a relative bargain at $26,975 for grades K – 12 for 2023. If we divide the tuition by the nine months they are in school, we get $2,997 per month.

Given students are in school from 8am – 3pm on average a day, they are in school for roughly 140 – 154 hours a month. That comes out to $19 / hour. That's pretty cheap given it costs $60 – $100 / hour to pay a licensed electrician or plumber to fix anything in your house.

I used to charge $70 / hour for a private tennis lesson, and currently charge much more for private consultation. Meanwhile, some teenage babysitters regularly earn $15 – $20 / hour.

If you compare the monthly or hourly cost of private grade school to day care cost, the cost is right in line as well. But while you're in grade school, you should theoretically be learning much more in a class room than from your babysitter or day care professional.

Therefore, paying $26,975 to attend private grade school seems that much more worth it. However, just know that you will likely have to donate to the private school during their annual fundraiser. Private schools want a high participation rate to foster stronger community.

Punahou Kindergarten Campus - is private grade school worth it
Punahou kindergarten campus partially funded by Pierre Omiday, founder of eBay

Teachers Who Seem To Care

Every teacher cares about their students, just to different degrees. At Punahou, it seems like the teachers not only really care about their students, they also feel empowered because their students respect them. Many of the teachers are alumni who uphold the traditions of the school.

Further, if you know your parents are paying ~$27,000 a year in tuition, there is this implicit assumption that you better try and learn as much as possible and make the best use of your time, lest you want to waste your parents' money.

My wife and I were sitting at a library table resting from our tour of the campus when an English teacher by the name of Paul Hamamoto came up to us and asked if he could provide any guidance. He told us how the library was actually called the learning center because the school wants to share new career paths the students may not otherwise consider.

We loved hearing such out-of-the-box thinking because the world changes quickly. To hammer home the same old routine of going to college to become a lawyer doesn't do kids justice. I never would have imagined living my current lifestyle when I was in school.

Paul taking the time to sit down with us was a great demonstration of care. It wasn't just Paul who came up to us either. A number of teachers and administrators asked whether they could help us out and answer any questions we had about the school. More caring teachers should go a long way to raise better people.

Punahou campus grades 2 - 5 - is private grade school worth it?
Punahou campus grades 2 – 5. Opened Fall 2016. Don't remember my school being anywhere near as nice.

Strong Alumni Network

Life is easier with a stronger network. We like to take care of people with similar backgrounds, or at least give them a chance to compete. Punahou is one of the largest private schools on Oahu with roughly 4,000 students from K – 12. Each year graduates roughly 400 students who attend universities all over the U.S. and the world. Therefore, Punahou should have an advantage over smaller private schools.

The most famous alumnus is President Barrack Obama. But also on the list of alumni are Steve Case (founder of AOL), Sun Yat-sen (politician), Kelly Preston (actress) and many more. The more recognized a school is and its list of alumni, perhaps the easier it is to get a job, raise capital for a business, or build your clientele.

Related: The Unhealthy Desire For Prestige Is Ruining Your Life

Punahou High School Campus
Punahou High School Campus

Larger Academic Curriculum

The very essence of school is to learn something new that will guide students towards a more fulfilling life. Private schools tend to have a wider array of classes because they have more flexibility and funding. If your kid wants to learn more about Ruby On Rails, laser cutting, glass blowing, or maybe even online media, there may be a deeper opportunity for your child to learn something a public school student may not.

I love art and guitar. But there weren't many options for me to go deep into either field during grade school. I can always try and catch up now as an adult, but it's much easier to learn as a kid.

Punahou school campus for high school
Punahou high school campus lawn

One of the things I was thinking about was teaching an online media or blogging course in high school. Learning about how to make money on the internet working from home should be in huge demand thanks to the pandemic.

It would be easier for a private school to implement this new course than a public school.

Related: Why Do Smart Kids Make Dumb Decisions About Private School?

A Safer Environment

My biggest worry as a parent is that my kid will get bullied, beat up, made fun of, killed, or fall into a bad crowd. There's a lot of stress and anxiety experienced by parents, especially if they are not rich enough. I got into fights several times when I was in public high school because I fought back against bullies.

I also occasionally hung out with kids who smoked, drank, did drugs, shoplifted and rode motorbikes illegally. As a result, I paid for my association and behavior with suspensions, community service, and more. OMG, I was a parent's worst nightmare! Now looking back, I wonder how I was able to get through it all.

Parents who are willing to fork out $25,000+ in tuition must either care a lot about education or are simply rich enough to pay. They could be the most checked out parents ever, but for 8 hours a day, their kids are getting exposed to faculty who do care a great deal. Hopefully with more caring or wealthier parents, there will be less bad apples in the classroom.

If your classmates are poor, then they're either attending on a merit scholarship or they realize the massive sacrifice their parents are making to send them to private school. As a result, both types of classmates are probably normal if not outstanding students. Of course there will be the occassional spoiled rich kid who doesn't give a damn about anybody. But hopefully they are few and far between.

Punahou President's house right on campus
Punahou President's house right on campus

Related: Life After The Private Sector: Should I Get A PhD?

Private Or Public Grade School?

If you can't afford private grade school, don't worry! The public school system is good enough and regularly sends kids to some of the best universities around the country. Just check where your local public high school sent their graduates to see for yourself.

I went to a public high school, public college, and public business school. As a result, I am a big fan of the public school system. It's good to get exposed to kids from all different socioeconomic backgrounds. It's also good to not have your hand held every step of the way. You can always take accelerated courses if you want a challenge.

My best friend from McLean High School (public) got into Cooper Union and now works for a large non-profit. My other friend went to Virginia Tech (public) and is a cybersecurity engineer at a huge tech firm. Another friend also went to Virginia Tech and is CEO of his own cloud storage company.

My other public high school friend went to Georgetown and is now a radiologist who asks me to send him all my MRIs so he can provide his free opinion.

Our valedictorian went to Princeton and after spending time at Teach for America, is now a programmer. Our salutatorian went to The College of William & Mary like me, and is now a cardiologist.

I finished up a 13-year career in investment banking and decided to blog full-time starting in 2012. I think we all turned out just fine as public high school graduates.

Where Punahou graduates attended college 2016
Where two or more Punahou graduates went to college over the past 4 years. Not everybody went to a top 25 school, and that's OK.

Advice For Parents Deciding On Private Grade School

If you send your kids to public school, I recommend being more involved as a parent to make sure they're hanging out with a good crowd. Instill in your children a work ethic that gives them the most opportunity to succeed, regardless of their level of intelligence.

As long as you're present in your child's development, I'm confident your child will turn out just fine. Besides, it's hard to beat free tuition. You can use the money you would have spent on private school tuition on extra lessons after school instead.

If you can afford private grade school, you should strongly consider sending your kid for all the reasons I've stated above. Everybody has a different definition of what “afford” means.

How Much Income Is Required To Afford Private Grade School?

A good minimum level of household income to afford private grade school is around 7X private school tuition e.g. $20,000 tuition, $140,000 household income. But again, everybody's expenses are different, so it's hard to say. Let's hope there are enough grants to go around to those families on the edge.

I had a wonderful time attending Canadian Academy in Japan, Taipei American School in Taiwan, and the International School of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from K – 8. These were all private schools. The diversity of students was tremendous. I didn't feel the quality of education drop off at all when I transitioned to public high school. There was plenty of room to grow because as a kid, I still had plenty to learn.

A quality education is one of the best gifts a parent could ever give. Why not pay up for a broader curriculum with dedicated teachers and a nice campus if you can afford to. Whether they go to Harvard or State U doesn't matter so long as they turn out to be good people.

Is private grade school K - 12 worth it?

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Preparing For A Move For School

I'm strongly considering moving back to Oahu to be closer to my parents. I want to be there for them in case they need anything (rides, food, handy work, tech help, gardening, companionship, etc).

Here are some steps I'll be taking over the next five years to prepare for the option of sending my kid to private grade school:

  • Do research on what type of testing private schools conduct on kids 5 and up.
  • Understand the parental interview process
  • Become a USPTA certified tennis instructor to potentially add value as an assistant tennis coach.
  • Create an online media curriculum that I could teach at one of the private schools to add value.
  • Create a personal finance curriculum to educate high school seniors about how to properly manage their money before becoming adults.
  • Speak to alumni and parents of the private grade schools I'm considering.
  • Build relationships with teachers, faculty and parents of the private grade schools I'm considering.
  • Create a separate fund specifically for grade school tuition.
  • Calculate all my pro forma expenses over the next 5+ years using Empower's free financial planner. The goal is to make sure I'm not putting my retirement cash flow at risk with this new potential expense. Here are some Income and Spending inputs I create. It includes paying $25,000 a year in private school tuition in 2023 for 12 years.
Financial planning for private school
Log onto Personal Capital and go to Advisor Tools -> Retirement Planner -> Scroll Down To Edit Assumptions
Cash flow statement for private grade school budget
Detailed cash flow analysis
Planning for retirement when paying for private grade school
Cash flow will be OK during retirement based on a Monte Carlo simulation

Private Grade School Is Worth It If You Can Afford It

If you make at least 5X the private grade school tuition per child, I think private grade school is worth it. If you don't, then public grade school is a good choice as well.

The biggest thing parents worry about is regret. Parents fear their kids will grow up and not do anything with their lives. Then they might regret not spending more time with their children and spending more money on education.

However, think about how awesome you would feel if your kids went to public school, got into a great university, and grew a terrific career? You would feel like public school was the best investment ever.

We plan to try private grade school first by sending our son to a language immersion school for preschool. Then private language immersion school goes from Pre-K 3 to the 8th grade. If he likes his preschool experience, we'll send up all the way up through the 8th grade. If not, we will apply elsewhere for kindergarten.

Buy The Best Personal Finance Book

If you want to read more about the public school versus private school debate, pick up a hard copy of my WSJ bestseller, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom. Not only does it help you decide on the type of school to attend, the book also address many more of life's biggest dilemmas.

You can buy a hard copy of BTNT on Amazon right here on sale. I'm positive the book will provide you at least 100X more value than it costs! The book is based off 25+ years of experience working in finance and writing about finance.

Buy This Not That Book Reviews

Related posts:

Forfeit The Enrollment Deposit For A Better School?

How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School

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About The Author

195 thoughts on “Is Private Grade School K-12 Worth It?”

  1. Care to provide an update? Did you send your kids private and how was the experience? My wife went to private (HBA) and I went public on Hawaii island (Honokaa). She is a APRN and I run my own IT company. We’re debating this and up until recently I’ve been dead set against private school. Recent events have me almost doing a complete 180 on the subject. I would rather spend hundreds of thousands on a primary education that a secondary education. Having your child become a successful member of society is much more important than where they get their secondary education and the amount of challenges in Hawaii (I wrote a long post in reddit about this) specifically have me thinking that removing as much of the possible negative influences which could lead my child down the wrong path in life is worth it. A financially savvy person will be able to do well, no matter where they go to college (or if) and how much they make. Seems to me primary education is where we should spend our efforts for the best possible outcome.

    1. I think you could be right regarding spending money on the foundation kindergarten through 12th grade and less so on college. Because by the time they turn 18, their foundation and habits are largely set.

      We are attempting to go private language immersion through the eighth grade. So far so good as he finished kindergarten. But we are willing to change if it is not for him. Ideally, we want to slow travel and go abroad for one or two years. Language immersion is wonderful.

      1. I never thought of language immersion schools. I’ll have to look into that on Oahu. Thanks for the idea!

  2. I recently read your book Buy This, Not That and on p.230, you recommend that “household income should be at least 7X net tuition per kid before you can consider paying for private school.” Why is your recommendation in this article only 5X net tuition per kid?

    1. Thanks for picking up a copy of my book! How did you find this post?

      I upgraded the multiple to seven times in my book for today’s prices and value you get out of education. Prices continue to skyrocket, and the value continues to decrease. As a result, the multiple goes up to better protect household from spending too much.

      If you don’t mind leaving a review on Amazon, I would appreciate it.

      Thanks for your feedback, I’m going to update this post now.

      1. I’ve been a long-time follower of your site and continue to read your new posts and weekly newsletter. I appreciate all of the work you put into it.

        I haven’t finished reading the book yet but I really like what I have read so far. I’ll leave an Amazon review once I’ve finished reading it.

        I saw you changed the multiple from 5X to 7X in one section (“A good minimum level of household income to afford private grade school is around 7X private school tuition e.g. $20,000 tuition, $140,000 household income.”) but not the other (“If you make at least 5X the private grade school tuition per child, I think private grade school is worth it. If you don’t, then public grade school is a good choice as well.”). Was this intentional?

  3. I don’t think that private K-12 education becomes “worth it” or no based on how much money the family makes. In order to determine whether or not it is worth it, you need to determine if the private school you are enrolling in provides value over the public school alternative. Many people assume this is true because they look at things like average SAT scores or other nominal metrics. But this confuses selectivity and quality. Being selective raises your scores even if the school adds no additional value beyond the private school alternative. In my opinion no one should choose private school no matter how much money they make, unless the private school is able to demonstrate that they add sufficient value in producing the outcomes you desire and that their improvements justify the tuition. And it is insufficient to base it on raw scores, since the student populations in public and private schools are different. Check out how the wealthy students in your public high school did and compare their performance to private schools. Or ask the private school how well students from the same demographic background as your public school did. At least that way you’re getting closer to apples-to-apples. In most cases private schools will not be able to prove that they add value. They will hide behind raw scores, using their selectivity as a proxy for quality. And asking you to waste a lot of money to find out if they provide any real value

  4. Punahou Grad

    This topic was just what I was looking for. I have a two year old with another child possibly on the way. I’m struggling with the dilemma of moving from California back to Hawaii (where I was born and raised) to help take care of my mother.

    I attended Punahou during the 1980s. I agree with many of the previous comments about the school. In my opinion, it’s really all about the guidance each student gets from their parents. The school, at the time, did not offer me much direction in terms of helping me to truly compete with my fellow students, let alone students from other states in going for those coveted spots in the top tier colleges and universities. You really had to be a self starter and take the primary role in doing everything for yourself if you wanted to excel. The facilities are great, definitely the best in the state, so there is that.

    The question I always had is whether it’s better to be the big fish in the small pond or just one of many “ok” students with the Punahou pedigree. In my day, the school was quite competitive in both academics and sports – so you really had to be one the top people in the state to get the A’s or to make practically any team in high school. When you are grading on a curve with a student body composed largely of the brightest and wealthiest students in the state, it’s obviously going to be very difficult to stand out. Yes, it’s great if you are a superstar student or athlete, but what if you’re just average to mediocre? Odds are that’s 80 to 85% of the entire student body – because you have to submit yourself to the curve. How does that look to the mainland universities when you apply? I think you just appear like any other average applicant. I don’t think having “Punahou” on your diploma does anything, by itself, to help you in college admissions.

    This is the main drawback, I feel, in sending my kids to Punahou. Two kids, over 13 years, that’s probably $1.3 million to start, not counting for tuition increases that are sure to occur over multiple years. That’s such a huge financial sinkhole and could be better used to set them up for college tuition or seed money for their own business ventures.

    In the end, I’d much rather my children have a childhood where they are not constantly having to compete at the highest level from the day they enter kindergarten. Not everyone can get the proper chance to shine if you’re always going to be in the shadows of people who are more talented or driven. I’m leaning towards public schools, though I realize how bad their reputation is in Hawaii. Life throws you enough stress and pressure as an adult. Not that I expect public school to be absent drawbacks (lack of facilities, disinterested teachers, bullying, ect…) just that there will be better odds that my kids will be able to excel there because of the lower level of competitive students.

    1. Good thoughts to consider. I guess we will know best based on knowing our kids strengths and weaknesses and doing our best to put them at a school that fits those strengths and weaknesses.

      What if you go to Punahou and then end up going to University of Hawaii? A fine college, but wouldn’t spending $400,000 on Punahou be considered a waste?

      What if you end up going to Harvard and graduate doing nothing special with your life?

      At the end of the day, we parents probably should try and offer the best education possible and see what our kids do with it.

      But if you don’t make at least 3X the annual tuition per child, private school really seems like a bad trade without any grants.

      1. Note that historically, more Punahou grads attend UH-Manoa than any other college. That was even more true for the class of 2020, due to the pandemic.

        And the UH Med School and Law School are both filled mostly with graduates of Punahou and ‘Iolani.

        1. Indeed! So it makes people question point of going to private grade school and spending over $300,000 when public grade school will do just fine to get into the University of Hawaii. What are your thoughts?

          1. If you measure the value of your kids’ K-12 experiences solely by what colleges they attend, then you would likely be disappointed if your kid went on to UHM for undergrad (Med and Law school are totally different). After all, the majority of UHM undergrads are alums of local public schools.

            But I think if you dig deeper, you’ll see statistical outcome differences between the Punahou grads and the public school grads who attended UH. E.g., when UH had a BS/MD program, Punahou (and Iolani) was disproportionately represented.

            I highly value the K-12 experience as and end in itself. Punahou provides kids with many opportunities that are not available at public schools, that can make that experience much richer, and that is independent of what they do after high school.

            Related to experience, but also going beyond it, is the peer group issue. As Punahou Grad notes above, there’s the fish/pond size issue to consider, and you need to be aware of the size of your kid relative to the various ponds available. IMO, it’s isolating and usually not enjoyable to be the only fish of a certain size; it’s much more enjoyable and socially healthy to have peers in the same size range.

            Bottom line, I think you need to know your kid. Based on what you’ve posted about yourself and your family, my guess is that your kid would probably fit in better at Punahou than most public schools. If you did make the choice to send your kids to public school on O’ahu, you likely would frequently find yourself asked why you chose that route over private (while Punahou entry is selective, there are enough other private school options that pretty much any parents with the means and desire can find a private school for their kids).

            And if you have the $300k or so to pay, and your kid(s) project to fit in well, I suggest you ask yourself what would be a better use of that $300k.

            1. “Punahou provides kids with many opportunities that are not available at public schools, that can make that experience much richer, and that is independent of what they do after high school.”

              Do you have some examples?

              I’m pretty sure my kids would enjoy attending Punahou or I’olani or wherever. Currently, my son is in a Mandarin immersion school in SF which seems fine. I just want them to learn, make friends, feel safe, and feel loved. That’s it! And spending money to make them feel this way is worth it.

              What did you end up doing after Punahou? A lot of it is just an expectations thing. And I write about attending public or private school in my upcoming book, Buy This, Not That. I think you’ll enjoy it if you pick up a hard copy!

              1. One example is a full range of honors and AP classes, which I believe is greater than most if not all public schools in the state.

                There are others that some, but not all, public schools offer, like orchestra, speech and debate, and classes like glass blowing, music theory, and human anatomy. But I’m pretty sure no other school in the state offers the full breadth of learning opportunities that Punahou does, except perhaps Kamehameha, probably the richest private school in the country,

                Punhaou Grad cited the difficulty making sports teams (and of particular interest to you, the tennis team is extremely competitive and has historically dominated states), but the flip side to that is there are so many teams that it is very possible for most kids to find some sports team they can join, and the school will create more teams for sports with high demand. Several sports have multiple varsity teams, and some have multiple JV teams. Some sports are no cut, albeit with not everyone being able to compete at all events (e.g., wrestling and Judo are no cut, but for many meets only one team member per weight class can compete).

                I did not attend Punahou. I’m a public school grad, as are many parents of Punahou students.

                I’ll also add a secondary consideration, that you and your wife are, IMO, more likely to find a group of parents like yourselves at Punahou than at most if not all public schools, especially if you did not have kids until you were in your 30s or later. After all, it’s your money, so it’s your prerogative to also consider what you’ll get out of it.

    2. Punahou Grad

      Correction with regard to tuition. The price tag for 2020-21 is about $27,000, with a new increase on the horizon announced a few weeks ago I believe. So without accounting for future increases, 13 years x $27,000 = $351,000 as a base, or likely as least $400,000 as you are projecting. That’s still about $800,000 for two kids. More palatable for sure, but still lots to ponder.

      1. Punahou Grad

        What if you go to Punahou and then end up going to University of Hawaii? A fine college, but wouldn’t spending $400,000 on Punahou be considered a waste?

        As a parent, I’d be really disappointed if it plays out like this. I’m sure most parents would say it was a waste of money. I attended college in the mainland but took summer courses at University of Hawaii. The science and math courses at UH were much, much easier compared to what I had at Punahou. Though to be fair, even though they were “dumbed down”, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed those classes and the learning experience much more at UH. The philosophy and Asian Studies classes were comparable to Punahou, as UH has a strong department in those fields.

        I still feel that university should be a step up from high school in terms of level of difficulty to prepare the student for the job market, especially if you’ve committed such a huge sum to your child’s K – 12 education. In that estimation, going from Punahou to UH would certainly be a waste in my eyes.

        I had some smart classmates that did go to UH with many financial incentives such a stipends or free tuition to make it more enticing, but I’d argue that they would have received that consideration even if they’d attended public school. The cream always rises to the top.

  5. Punahou offers a perk to its employees in the form of free tuition for one kid. Admission is not guaranteed, but preference is given to kids of employees.

    So of course, many students are the kids of employees, and many students’ parents try to get jobs at the school. And it’s not just faculty whose kids attend; the benefit applies to all employees, including custodial staff, groundskeepers, security guards, cafeteria staff, etc., so many of their kids attend as well.

    1. This is wonderful to hear, and as it should be. Is there free tuition for athletic coaches? I’ve been a high school tennis coach for three years and we went to three championships and won two of them :-)

      1. IDK if all the coaches are school employees. The tennis program there is very competitive and for years has dominated states, so I imagine coaching positions are also competitive.

        1. Sounds like a match! My tram played them the other year in LA.

          So what is it that your kids do now? It’s always interesting to see what kids do after getting a stellar education. Thx

  6. I’ve come into this thread late, but Sam, you seem to be falling into a common trap, especially among those with financial foci, in looking at the public/private question.

    The trap is ignoring your kids’ school experiences. For 13 years, your kids will probably spend more of their time outside of home at school than anywhere else. As a parent, it was a high priority for our kids to enjoy their childhoods, so enjoying their time at school was a big part of that.

    Another thing to consider is your kids’ peer groups. As they get older, those peer groups will have increasing influence on their life trajectories as parents’ influences wane.

    Our kids went to private school, and twice a year, before I wrote tuition checks, I reflected on whether our kids were enjoying their school experiences. One thing that was telling was that the threat they took most seriously , e.g. for misbehavior, was pulling them from private school.

    We also had one other datum. Our firstborn had some public school experience, and we saw a huge difference between that and the private they both attended.

    We could afford the tuition without a lot of sacrifice, so for us the answer was easy. After all, what better use did we have for that money than getting our kids not only good educations, but enjoyable childhoods?

    IMO again, K-12 school choice matters more than college choice in life outcomes for kids.

    BTW, your readers should also keep in mind that in Hawai’i there is only one public school district, so the public/private decision is much different than in much of the rest of the US, where housing prices are much more heavily influenced by the school districts, and thus the public/private choice can be inextricably tied to housing choice.

    1. Good points. I like to think deeply about these issues before I commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to one. I still have time to decide as my oldest isn’t 4 yet.

      We can afford the tuition as well. But I also realize that my public school experience made me hungry and made me really want to fight hard. So who knows what type of experience my kids will have. I agree that the school environment is the most important factor. I would happily pay whatever amount of tuition if my kids were learning and happy.

      May I ask what your kids are doing now?

      You may enjoy this post:

  7. I always wondered why people split it as “private vs. public school.” I always thought it depended much more on the individual school than whether it was private or public. Maybe in San Francisco and the Bay Area, there are plenty of excellent public schools, so it’s not a necessity for parents to send their kids to private school for a better education.

    It all depends on the family and individual, and less on public vs. private, or any school.

    I had a pretty good experience in my earliest years in private schools, even if the school curriculum wasn’t all that. The kids at those schools just seemed way better behaved than the ones at the regular public schools I transferred to. Hell broke loose when my mom put me in the local public elementary school, where I suffered from rampant bullying, with kids at a variety of socioeconomic levels (less classy). So then she put my youngest brother in a private school through 8th grade.

    The kids were super nice at the public high school I went to, but only because it was a selective magnet high school, and there was a good percentage of Asian American kids like myself.

    I went to only public schools from most of elementary school through college. It seems if someone goes to public school, they’re most likely to keep going the public school route. And if they go to private school, they’re most likely to go that route. They’re just automatically filtered into that route – everyone around us are focusing on certain schools, so those are the ones we think about.

    I kind of think private school students – even at lower-ranked, little-known private schools – can be a bit more refined because their parents had the money or cared enough to put them in a private school, even if there are decent public schools available.

    But it does depend on a lot. I knew someone who went to an elite foreign high school, and was bullied for being from less rich family, and he didn’t have the expensive clothes or other markers of wealth that the other kids had. I believe he got in on financial aid or discount because he had a parent who worked there.

  8. Vivian Black

    You made a great point about how you can get into a larger college and you can get a solid return on investment. My husband and I are looking to put our son into a private school, preferably a Christian one. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that we can send him to.

  9. Private vs Public schools in largely about self segregating their children from becoming a minority in their school class. The only exception to this rule are Asian parents, where they’re willing to send their children to a white majority school. However, white parents will rarely want their children to attend a majority non-white school, public or private. Asian parents will rarely want their children to attend a latino or black majority white schools. It’s unfortunately, but part of life.

  10. ContemplatingCalBear

    I live in SF Bay area with a 3.5 yr old and 1.5 yr old. We are exactly going thru’ similar decision making process. Couple of things which the original post could add is the yoy increase of tuition fee of between 3-5%. Apart from that, the kids needs to attend extra-curricular classes (dancing, Karate, etc) for ~$500. So per my calculation expense will be between $2500-$3500 per month per kid (which will just grow more). So the question now becomes that can I get the best school district in SFBay area for extra $5000-$7000 mortgage + property tax (> $1M mortgage on a 1.8M house) per month AND do both wife and I have the energy after our busy day of work to spend enough time to instill good work habits in our kids. Pls also consider that even if the kids are in public school, per kids extra-curricular expense would be $700 per month per kid. Lastly would our take home be increasing at 5% rate for the next 20 yrs AND would we have enough to saved up for retirement. Not a clear decision either way I think as economically public is always better option but the best thing we can do for our kids is provide them best opportunity aka education.

  11. Old post but I was a punahou grad and had Mr. Hamamoto as my english teacher. Nice guy for sure. When I went to punahou, it was known as the elite school (along with Iolani) and the white or Haole school, though not necessarily accurate. Certainly proud to have gone there but also when folks ask, i’m not eager to blurt it out as there’s a certain stigma attached to it, which is more apparent in Hawaii where most identify by their high schools. Outside of punahou, few will ooh and aah over you, but more likely to give you a playful jab about it. Networking advantage is probably minimal, as everyone knows someone from Punahou and the islands are so small that everyone is separated by only a few degrees anyway. However, the punahou now is a bit different than when I went. From what I gather from adult friends trying to get their kids in, it’s more competitive and intense than before. Volunteering at carnival, donating, etc. before your kids are of age. Trying to get your kid into feeder preschools. It’s almost like the feverish obsession of Harvard. This seemed to peak in 2008 or so when Obama made headlines and Punahou was ranked #1 by sports illustrated or something like that. There’s a certain stigma and vibe to it that I’m not so sure I want my kid to be a part of anymore. If they get it great, but I won’t go out of my way for it. Inside the walls it’s probably not much different, but outside it just feels different.

    It was a great school and experience, but certainly one is a bit sheltered there. The benefit of the school is that you’re surrounded by like minded students (or more so parents) with good homes, families. Lots of kids with rich parents of course. However, there were still some mediocre or below average students. Drugs and alcohol weren’t uncommon in social life, however due to the family dynamics of most students, it’s not a lifetime issue. The facilities are good and the teachers are nice and caring, are they more caring than other schools? Hard to say but likely not, based on other’s experiences and friends who are teachers elsewhere. Are the teachers better? I don’t think so. I didn’t think my teachers were particularly noteworthy, except for some. Certainly had terrible teachers too. College is well supported and built into the culture of the school, it’s sort of expected and a form of peer pressure. I’m not sure if college admissions success has much to do with the teaching/curriculum vs college counseling and culture. Ultimately, I think the biggest benefit you’re paying for is facilities and the environment (namely other students). I had a classmate who’s brother was valedictorian at their public high school in town and got a full scholarship to an ivy league. My friend didn’t. How much weight can we put on the school vs the parent, home life or individual kid?

    1. Great feedback!

      I concur with many of your thoughts! On Oahu, where life is relatively chill…. I actually wouldn’t want anybody to know that I went to an elite grade school or that my son goes there too (he does not). Oahu is all about being low key and humble in my opinion. Having the college admissions fever scandal on the islands seems completely COUNTER to the culture there!

      If you want to go that route in NYC or SF, it seems more normal. But to go through the grind in Oahu seems off.

      Really good food for thought.

      See: What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody

  12. Great discussion! I am shocked to see that nationally a private grade school only cost $20k/year while in New England where I live, it is $40k/year through 8th and easily $50-$60 in high school. Despite the high cost of private education and living in excellent public school districts, many parents still send their kids to private schools. I suspect it is due to “local comparison”. No matter how well your public system ranks nationally, you’d only compare your kids with your neighbors’ or your coworkers’, so parents would always ask what better or more competitive options/schools there are.

    Even though many private schools offer financial aid, it will most likely go to the lower income family. The truly wealthy will not need it. So the cost become most prohibitive for the middle income family because that would be $60-100K/year of their income to afford these schools. And I wonder whether that’s the force keeping the public school districts strong.

  13. Great post and discussions! I am really surprised that nationally a private grade school only cost around $20K when in New England (where I live), 4th grade onward would average $40K/year and by the time you get to 12th grade you are looking at $50-60K/year easily. But wages in NE aren’t 2X of the rest of the nation. Even so, I see a lot of families sending their kids to private schools despite living in excellent school districts. I would think even with your revised required minimum income of $300K, sending kids to private school would have a huge setback on family financials. While the truly wealthy families have no problem and the lower income families may qualify for financial aid, the cost becomes prohibitive for middle class families.

    Another point I’d like to bring up is that, like “all politics are domestic”, school comparisons are also limited within the regions or neighborhoods. Parents often focus less on how good their public school systems are nationally, but rather “are there even better or more competitive options within my area”.

  14. Sure. I am mainly looking at outcomes from high school- you are right, it’s really hard to compare grade schools. I don’t think my personal experience matters, so I will try and stick to objectives. I would happily advise anyone to attend Punahou, including family. But it’s not up there with other schools for reasons I shall elucidate below.

    Kids from Punahou get into great colleges as they are the best educated in Hawaii. I attended college with several.

    1. Remember that Hawaii is an island, so you just don’t have as big a population to draw from as, say, IMSA in Illinois or even Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, or the top tier private schools in New York City or Boston or DC or Los Angeles such as Brearley, Winsor, Harvard-Westlake etc.

    2. Places like Exeter, Eton, Harrow, and Andover draw students from all over the globe, so the caliber of their student body is extremely high.

    3. They have to accept a variety of kids due to the public school situation in Hawaii. An objective measure of outcomes would be percentage of National Merit Scholars, which is only 6.3% at Punahou. Many other schools have much higher percentages.

    4. Few to no winners in major math or science contests.

    5. Median SAT scores are lower at Punahou than at many other schools.

    6. Lower percentage of top twenty/Ivy/little Ivy acceptances than many of the schools listed above despite the Hawaii advantage

    7. Non need-blind admissions, so the school is probably missing some bright kids. Admittedly, this is true for most private schools.

    Punahou is great, no doubt, and students benefit in exmissions from its location. But there are certainly schools that have more robust performance on many objective outcome measures. It’s mainly limited by its location, but that also helps with exmissions.

      1. Here is the info I feel I can share publicly. I am an MD who attended some private school as well as public school, attended a top 10 or 15 private university and top 20 medschool.

        Agreed all of the schools mentioned above are great, and I think that kids would have a wealth of opportunities at any of them. No school is perfect, and every child is different. Punahou is fantastic, and it’s also much cheaper than many mainland private schools. I didn’t grow up in Hawaii, but the few people I know who did all attended Punahou and it seemed o work well for them.

        Having attended both private and public schools, I question the value of private also, but unless something has changed the Hawaii schools have a poor reputation for a variety of bizarre postcolonial reasons, and private seems very popular there, probably with reason.

        I completely question the value in places like New York and Boston where there are so many amazingly good public schools that are often more rigorous than private. I don’t question the value in areas with really bad or limited public schools, such as the Mississippi Delta and maybe still Hawaii.

        Mmmm…move to Hawaii. Mmmm.

      2. Punahou is no better than Iolani, at the least, but I also have friends who went to any high school in Hawaii and have become successful adults. Also know some punahou grads who haven’t done much. I think parents, the individual, home life, etc. are much stronger determinants of academic success than high school name. Of course there’s a bit bias in this poster’s comment as maybe they’ve only been fortunate enough to run into punahou grads, Hawaii kids in general mostly don’t leave for college, and most stick to the west coast, and many are from Iolani or Punahou, but that doesn’t mean it’s because they’re better educated. Most go to State schools on the mainland, fewer go to ivy leagues, either by choice (too far away) or ability. Plus the college culture in Punahou is strong. But as the name spreads the bias continues despite no one really knowing what the school is about, they just hear it often.

        1. Would you say as a business owner who views college as a depreciating asset, that it would be wiser NOT to send my son to Punahou or I’olani? Are there more stealth low key schools to send your kid to in Honolulu? What are some of the best public schools on the south and south east side of Honolulu you think?

          Finally, where did you go to college and what do you do? I find it amusing that lots of Punahou grads end up going to UH. Why not just go to public school.

          Related: The Rapid Depreciation Of A Harvard Degree

          1. Probably not the best person to answer on schools. I don’t know how good this schools truly are, but for private schools, Maryknoll and HBA are options. Damien and St Louis are as well. Midpac used to be so-so but heard it has gotten better. There’s UH lab, which I think is a charter school. For public, I’m even less sure. Moanalua has always been known to be good, but is probably outside your intended area. Kaiser seems good in a good neighborhood. Looking at greatschools, I didn’t realize Kaimuki was that bad or roosevelt that good. I know great people with successful careers from all those schools, of course they just may be the outliers or cream of the crop. I really do believe parents and peers likely play a more important role. I know people who got into wrong crowds at punahou/iolani and got in trouble, dropped out, or kicked out. Very few of them but not zero either.

            I’d bet most parents don’t send their kids to private school expecting them to go UH, but it is what it is, maybe they don’t do as well or just don’t want to leave, thats ok too. Likewise it seems even sillier to go to some no-name expensive school on the mainland, just cause, when UH could serve your needs just fine. I know punahou kids that did UH and have successful careers and others who did ivy league not really establish themselves for awhile.

          2. Also, my comments was for high school options mainly. However, my kids aren’t of that age so I haven’t looked into it much, just only have anecdotes and hearsay from various sources, which I don’t entirely trust either. For elementary I’m more than happy with public school.

    1. Just read a research article on the topic and the conclusion was adjusted for household income, there is zero outcome difference for public and private school students. Kids from higher income households do better on standardized tests than kids from lower income households and there is a higher proportion of rich kids at private school. Rich kids at public schools equally well to rich kids at private schools.

      While I believe students will perform equally well on standardized tests, i highly doubt social outcomes are the same. Public schools do not teach or emphasize emotional intelligence, social skills, or public speaking. Especially at mediocre public schools. No way my kid’s outcome in life will be the same if I send them to a mediocre public school versus an elite private school.

  15. Hawaii has notoriously bad schools, so unfortunately I think it’s one of the places where you have to strongly consider private education. That having been said, while Punahou has a great campus and resources, the academics are just not on the level of many elite public and private schools in places such as Massachusetts, New York, and California .

    But definitely the best choice in Hawaii if you want to be near your mom.

    1. Can you explain with some objective criteria why Punahou is not as good as mainland private schools?

      My niece went on to attend Princeton, which is a pretty good school.

      Where did your children go for a private grade school? What colleges did they go to afterward? And what are they doing with their lives now? Thanks

      1. I answered- sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. If it works for your family, that’s all that matters.

  16. The problem with university is that there is too much work. Fifteen years ago there were no cell phones that could do things like they can today, and no one keeps straight jobs anymore. A better way to do it is to take an online certificate at university. Just one will give you something and save the trouble of useless courses in the school itself

    1. As someone who recently graduated from university with a dual-degree (Math & Statistical Modeling) while working nearly full time the last 2 years of school…

      There is not too much work. There is too much wasting time and not enough focus (both students and faculty).

  17. As a parent if you are going to spend so much money on education, then it better be worth it. The kids should grow up to have the best jobs. It’s a lot of pressure. RIGHT?

    I’ve seen one set of parents who lived in the one of the best school districts in the state. People moved to their city to take advantage of schools. Property taxes reflected the school’s reputation. They decided to send their daughter to a private school, so she could get the best education. Today’s annual tuition is $30K per year. From an ROI perspective, she did not do well. She’s in her late 20s, living with the parents, divorced, dropped out of college, and working at a daycare (probably makes $30K a year).

    There nothing wrong with being a daycare teacher. I have out most respect because she deals with kids 24/7.

    However, on paper it just doesn’t make sense. Her parents spent hundred of thousands of dollars on her education. Maybe liking at it from a financial perspective is harsh.

    However, as an adult I always value the financial perspective.

  18. Both me and my husband are products of public schools and have had good and bad experiences. He spend his junior and senior years in a private military school after almost flunking out of public school. He loved his time there and credits it for turning him around. He didn’t complete his undergrad but is making a decent living in the SF bay area.

    Our city (Oakland, CA) has some decent public elementary schools and some not so good ones so we wanted to give public a chance. Our son got into one of decent ones (great school score of 7), very diverse student body, ethnically and economically. But my son’s kindergarten teacher was not very good in our opinion. She seemed burnt out from managing a class of 23 kids with varying degrees of readiness for kindergarten. How can 1 person truly spend the time necessary to educate each student and pay them individual attention? Our son was one of the “troublemakers” in class after 1 week of class. There was a lack of classroom and parent support.

    We pulled him out of the public school and found a private school that has smaller class size and fabulous teachers who are happy and excited to see the kids each day. The school’s philosophy on social and emotional development was important to us. They teach the kids to think for themselves, not teaching to pass tests but really developing a life long love of learning. The tuition is almost $25k this year not including after school care and activities but we were able to get some financial aid. We have a pre-schooler who I hope will also be able to attend the same school because I want her to have just as an amazing opportunity as her older brother. The elementary and pre-school costs combined are about 15% of our after tax income this year.

      1. My husband works in IT at a tech company. I work in the creative fields for a big apparel company in SF and also dabble in real estate investing on the side. I am trying to turn the real estate thing into a full time gig so I can leave the 9-5 grind of “working for the man”. :)

    1. Leanne – +100. We feel the public schools don’t emphasize social skills and emotional intelligence enough. The public schools seem to only push achievement on standardized tests. Bullying, harassment, and students disrespecting each other aren’t managed well by school staff and too much pressure is placed on test scores. The result is an ever increasing level of stress and anxiety in our kids.

  19. Sam,

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but I understand the dilemma. My husband was a product of public education through high school. Then he attended a private university, where we met. I lived all over the world, so I spent time in both private and public institutions depending on where we lived and the availability/quality of the schools. I attended a private university, where I became the first woman on either side of my family to earn a degree. Then I went on to earn a law degree and another graduate degree.

    Our kids attend a private school, beginning in pre-k through 8th. Our youngest is still there, our oldest is in a different private high school. Our local public schools are NOT GOOD. So, we made the very personal decision to send them to private. There are good and bad that go along with that, but our primary driving forces included very small class sizes (no one would get lost in a crowd), learning differences/accelerated levels of development were identified, addressed, and monitored at the highest levels. We do not have security concerns (i.e. Active shooter scenarios) – after Sandy Hook the protocols, drills, and communication with parents were thoroughly examined, policies and procedures implemented, and additional resources allocated to security on campus. The school is faith based with uniforms and teaching biblical lessons that apply in their community outreach programs every week to tie those “love your neighbor” lessons to actual, tangible results. For example, our school took in kids evacuated from hurricane Harvey and educated them for weeks until they were placed in more permanent housing, their temporary housing was provided down the street and our students help feed the families and deliver clothing, toiletries, etc, needed. The school also has an outdoor education program that starts in kindergarten and culminates in a day 10 survival trick across the Colorado mountains. These kids are strong, confident, smart, and exposed to so much before they leave, it’s amazing. The growth and maturity in my oldest between 5th grade and the end of 8th grade was nothing short of miraculous. The kids love each other, I love the very supportive and amazing families there. We’ve been truly blessed. But it does come with a hefty sticker price. $40k per year is a lot, so there’s a lot of traveling we don’t do. We don’t eat out a lot or go shopping. But we are confident that we are giving our kids the best opportunity we can give them. Which is what our parents did for us. I’m not gonna lie, though, it is weird when the local celebrities/professional athletes are sitting in the same kid sized chairs as you are sitting on during parent teacher night and you’re wondering how you got there and ask yourself if your kid actually goes there or you’re just an aposter.‍♀️

  20. Mary E Rhea

    You don’t have a kid and you are writing this article? Maybe you should have a child first and then write the article. As far as I’m concerned your opinion doesn’t mean much at this point. No offense.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Mary. Really helpful to the community. I have a son and he’s so precious :) I’ve been taking care of him for at least 10 hours a day while working online for months now.

      How about yourself? Care to add more value to this post? Please share with me your background. I’m never offended. I just want to hear more perspectives.

  21. I totally disagree with this article. It’s not a matter of attending private vs public schools. It’s a matter of upbringing of the parents of their children and that is Discipline. Discipline comes in many forms, for example, a daily routine consisting of: getting up early in the morning at 4AM and praying, keeping your school uniform neat and clean, getting homework done on time, spending more time on important educational subjects, attending good clubs/socializing with the correct group, sleeping on time, preparing for exam/quizes by having good healthy diet, good eating habits. Then comes the avoidance of obstacles those are: avoiding video games, tv, iphone’s, internet, avoid bad company, avoid bad eating habits, avoid bad sleeping patterns, avoid fights/bad-verbal communication, avoid anger/depression/sadness.

    The above list is just basic, there are many things which should be covered experienced and these teachings are from India and other asian countries which relates to. If you can make your child like this the percentage is much much higher for your child’s future success but unfortunately these days its totally opposite because we have too may materialistic dependencies in old times the less materialistic things you had the more you were smart/sharp minded because you had to figure ways out to live in the means otherwise your desires keep increasing which gets bad effect on us.

  22. I’m in Canada with a 2 year old son. He’s attending my neighbor’s family daycare with 5 other kids. I plan to send him to a private bilingual (English/French) school for pre-K when he turns 4. He will then take an entrance exam for a public French IB (International) elementary school (grade K-6). If he cannot get into the public IB school. I will continue to pay for him to stay in the private school. For grade 7-12, I will let him sit the public IB school again. If he fails I would only send him to local public school. I won’t pay for private school then (much easier to get in compared to public IB school). An 11/12 year old should take more responsibility and understand that he can only get the best by working the hardest, and money cannot buy everything.

    I grew up in Shanghai and attended elite schools up to grade 7. My parents worked in a good university there, so the school I attended was only open to kids or grandkids of university’s employees. The teachers taught us great things, but the student population was too homogeneous. The one thing I don’t like about this school is how teachers liked to remind us how “special” we are (over 70% of students had at least 1 parent with college degree) compared to the students in the local public school next street.
    So I felt entitled and did not work very hard. I was disconnected with the reality. I though I can get to college because my parents and grandparents went to college. When I took the entrance exam to enter one of the best grade 6-12 schools in Shanghai, I scored a few marks lower than the minimum requirements. However, my parents still got me in with their connections and money. So I continued my grade 6-7 not working too hard, just enough to be in the middle of the class. I was also becoming very materialistic and comparing the goods I had with what my peers had.
    When my parents immigrated to Canada, they could not research the schools and neighbourhood well due to language barrier. So we ended up in a middle-low income class district and I attended a local public school which is constantly ranked in the bottom 20% of all schools in the province. My mom wanted me to switch to a private school after 2 years but I refused and stayed there until graduation. My public school experience has made me a better person. I have witnessed lots of sufferings and struggles lived by my peers (drug addict or alcoholic parents starving the kids, welfare parents who discourage/mock their kids to continue school, divorced parents who don’t want kid’s custody, parents working 16+ hours on minimum salary with no time for kids, prostitute moms encouraging their daughters to follow, etc.). so I finally realized that my life so far is a privilege and should not be taken for granted. That was when I started to work hard and perform my best.

  23. I’m in Canada with a 2 year old son. He’s attending my neighbor’s family daycare with 5 other kids. I plan to send him to a private bilingual (English/French) school for pre-K when he turns 4. He will then take an entrance exam for a public French IB (International) elementary school (grade K-6). If he cannot get into the public IB school. I will continue to pay for him to stay in the private school. For grade 7-12, I will let him sit the public IB school again. If he fails I would only send him to local public school. I won’t pay for private school then (much easier to get in compared to public IB school). An 11/12 year old should take more responsibility and understand that he can only get the best by working the hardest, and money cannot buy everything.

    I grew up in Shanghai and attended elite schools up to grade 7. My parents worked in a good university there, so the school I attended was only open to kids or grandkids of university’s employees. The teachers taught us great things, but the student population was too homogeneous. The one thing I don’t like about this school is how teachers liked to remind us how “special” we are (over 70% of students had at least 1 parent with college degree) compared to the students in the local public school next street.
    So I felt entitled and did not work very hard. I was disconnected with the reality. I though I can get to college because my parents and grandparents went to college. When I took the entrance exam to enter one of the best grade 6-12 schools in Shanghai, I scored a few marks lower than the minimum requirements. However, my parents still got me in with their connections and money. So I continued my grade 6-7 not working too hard, just enough to be in the middle of the class. I was also becoming very materialistic and comparing the goods I had with what my peers had.
    When my parents immigrated to Canada, they could not research the schools and neighbourhood well due to language barrier. So we ended up in a middle-low income class district and I attended a local public school which is constantly ranked in the bottom 20% of all schools in the province. My mom wanted me to switch to a private school after 2 years but I refused and stayed there until graduation. My public school experience has made me a better person. I have witnessed lots of sufferings and struggles lived by my peers (drug addict or alcoholic parents starving the kids, welfare parents who discourage/mock their kids to continue school, divorced parents who don’t want kid’s custody, parents working 16+ hours on minimum salary with no time for kids, prostitute moms encouraging their daughters to follow, etc.). so I finally realized that my life so far is a privilege and should not be taken for granted. That was when I started to work hard and perform my best.

  24. your kids will teach u what u need to know about parenting, u have such foresight for learning

    ur kids will learn different things from different teachers, schools, friends etc. even bad teachers
    can teach kids how not to treat people and also how to tolerate someone u don’t feel is
    a fit and that next year they get someone they like, it teaches them about the ups and downs
    in life, and they can make it thru

    life has a way of teaching us what we need to learn

    i would not over worry about the school choice

    don’t be afraid to change something that is not working, but also
    never underestimate something that is working and u change it and
    now things don’t work, so appreciate/value whats going good and change
    what is not working for ur kids.

    just as a side note, saw a talk by the head of freshman admissions at stanford
    and in her research it showed that the number one determinant of raising
    successful people was……”doing chores” my kids did not like that

    balance love and acceptance with consistent limits and have the energy
    and backbone to be the parent

  25. I spent all 13 years in Catholic schools. Personally I would have been better off in the public system. The Catholic schools often don’t have the resources to offer a full range of honors/AP classes. Example – fewer than 30 kids in my graduating class bothered to take a science class (physics) senior year so they had the chemistry teacher teach it. No way they were going to hire another teacher to break that few kids into standard and AP. I ended up playing tutor to the kids who couldn’t wrap their brains around the topic. But they had my parents brainwashed that they were better than the public system.

    Having lived it – the advantage of the Catholic schools is that the parents care. All the kids have their homework done and show up to class. It’s not the quality of instruction. If you have an average child, Catholic schools will serve well. But if your child is high achieving look elsewhere, including the public system.

    Personally, I’ll be sending any kids I have to public schools.

  26. I read this blog regularly and love the information shared for the most part. I do from time to time become confused by comments in posts that seem to vilify wealth, since it’s creation and protection is the premise of the blog.

    Opening paragraph of this article for instance. Do a little research because you seem to be under the false impression that wealth is inherited not created. I’ve seen anywhere from 8-12% inherited millionaires vs the vast majority self-made.

    As to the point of the article my post is a prime example that public school and google along with a little critical thinking can work wonders.

    – self made millions

    1. It would be great if you can elaborate your educational background and how you made your millions.

      I’m surprised you think I think all wealth is inherited. But it is good feedback that I need to be aware about writing in a more detailed fashion to avoid confusion. But, the problem is that it may dull my writing style.


      1. “Are we really going to live in a world where the rich continue to hoard their multi-generational fortunes while the rest just struggle to get by?” There isn’t much grey area left in the first paragraph. But that’s the key statement. Smacks of “let’s take it back!!, get the pitchforks fellas”

        K-12 public school. Scholarship to College (academic) Business degree, lived in basement apartment worked sales job and invested in rentals, flips, huge 401k contributions. I worked twice as hard/smart and hope to inspire my children to do the same. Planning on helping them get invested in real estate/property ownership at a young age.

        Currently debating private vs public for our three children. In a small town 5k per child isn’t awful but this article gave me a lot of food for thought. A comment about invest the money and use as a trust fund is also worth exploration. That becomes a debate between gifting your children what they should earn, I certainly wouldn’t want to be seen as “hoarding” our wealth as others “struggle to get by”

  27. Not much to add here, but as a NYC parent, I am so offended by the hoops we and our kids have to jump through to get into a private school, where we will be forking over $20K+. If we are bending over backwards to get a good education for our kids, I would rather go the route of public schools. I feel lucky we actually had a choice between good public school and private school. You are going to get slacker, entitled kids in both school populations as that’s mostly attributable to parenting. But I believe all kids are entitled to a good education, not just kids from wealthy families. If your district has good public schools, being in a public school gives your child a better chance at being in a diverse group of peers, and if you’re well off, the child learns not to take their economic status for granted.

    1. Colleen – We live in DC and we hear many progressive parents boasting about how they like the idea of diversity at their kids public schools. I went to diverse public schools for middle and high school and they are pretty horrifying. I am no better off having experienced that and I still hate my parents for sending me into that war zone every day for 6 years.

      Here is a summary of the beauty of “diversity”. If you look at a poor kid the wrong way, they will start a fight with you. Any sense that a poor kid is being “disrespected” and the immediate response is a fist fight. Teachers have the thankless task of trying to control these animals and get cussed out, spit on, and fought every, single, day. No rational person would want to teach in a “highly diverse” school so you wind up with the worst of the worst teachers that dont care.

      I left public school with more stereotypes and radical beliefs then when I went in with. It is very traumatic constantly having your head on a swivel and being around hopeless people that don’t care about anything. By the end of high school, I never looked a stranger in the eyes or trusted anyone. The lunch room was a like a scene out of the show OZ. You sat with “your own kind” not because you liked them but because there was safety in numbers. We never sat with our backs to the room either. Never know when somebody would randomly throw an opened soda can at a random persons head for fun!

      If you can’t afford to live in an 8-10 “great school” rated school district then definitely go private school. My schools were rated as 5’s and they were basically juvenile detention centers with 20% kids from two parent households. Ironically, my wife and I are relatively wealthy and can afford to send our kids to private schools. We are a little awkward at the wine and cheese nights because we are still scared somebody might try to fight us for looking at them the wrong way.

  28. We live in a good enough school district where I can’t make a strong case for spending on private schools for such an extended period of time, even though we have just one (now a third grader). I also volunteer as an alum for my (Ivy League) alma mater and so get that valuable perspective of the caliber of high school grads from the local area. I’m very comfortable sending my kid to our home district high school even though I will admit I have been consistently impressed with a very expensive and exclusive high school seniors I have come across. However I view the differentiation more in the level of individual attention that can be afforded to a graduating class of less than 100 seniors versus over 600 seniors… as well as the types of life experiences these students get to have as a function of their parents’ wealth (works travel) or network (contacts and circles). For our family I’d rather save the private school tuition and take our kid on trips to various countries. Additionally it depend on the career path or major. My spouse and I are biology and engineering majors and depending on the major, employment is less sensitive to school name versus internship experience. I’ve met engineers at local state colleges and universities who were as competitive as those from top tier universities. On the other hand if the kid steers toward other majors the tier of university would matter more. Anyway this has been a long winded way to describe the many insights I have gained about the relative “value” of education and why I am very comfortable with our public school option. In fact even if my kid chooses to apply to my alma mater and gets in, I’d have to think very hard about footing a $240k+ private school tuition if the trend is engineering interest (kid can always get employer to help subsidize a masters degree in engineering and aim for the prestigious name schools then.)

    1. JStriding – The exclusive private high school students do seem to have better emotional intelligence and social skills. It is very easy for kids to get lost in crowds at big high schools and become disengaged. Engagement levels are higher in the smaller private schools and networking is much better.

      Standardized tests scores may not vary much, but on average I bet the private school kids have much better soft skills and a deeper network of valuable relationships early in adulthood. The top 20 universities are probably worth $240K, but 20-100 are probably equally valuable so the lowest cost school is probably the best decision.

  29. I hear some of the arguments about what I just gave them a lump sum when they’re older. But viewing raising kids as a pure financial transaction is the wrong approach for most of us.

    Also, if many of us are working hard trying to create a better life for us and others – wouldn’t we want to setup our kids to pursue their dreams and not give them the direct handout?

    I know many in finance from middle to upper middle income classes that have aspired to live the country club lifestyle they couldn’t have growing up. The question is how will their kids react now growing up in the lifestyle.

  30. Our family moved around a lot, but all of my education until college was public. My first few years of schooling were in states that valued education and gave me a firm foundation. Then the remainder of elementary through high school was in a state that did not value education, and it was terrible. Luckily I was self-directed because I wanted to get myself out of there. I had to teach myself most subjects and try to avoid pregnancy. Then I got myself a ticket to private college with an almost full-ride. That college wanted to show they cared about people with “interesting” backgrounds, and I was happy to be a poster-child.

    I don’t know what it would have been like if the first bit of my education had not been so solid.

  31. Fiscally Free

    This is a very important topic. One of the big factors that decided where we were going to move at the end of this year was the quality of the public schools in the area.

    My opinion is that public schools are fine, and it’s basically impossible to justify the expense of private schools unless you have some sort of extenuating circumstance. As you said, I think parental involvement is the most important part of raising a child. No school will be able to make up for poor parenting, no matter how much it costs.

  32. Sanjib Kumar Saha

    When I was in America, well I enjoyed the private grade schools because of the quality of education they provided. My child really enjoyed the curriculum that was presented in new and interesting ways with full of innovation. However, it is pretty damn expensive. Had to shed out a lot of money for my child’s 2 year educational expenses. Now, we are in India. It is very less compared to America.

  33. I experienced private schools, but I wouldn’t of thought or analyzed the subject had you not written a post about it. I noticed all parents and their kids haven’t paused to ask themselves why private k-12?

    The k-12 private school kids I’ve met are working for their parents as a office manager, a restaurant manager for dad, salesperson for the family real estate company. And let’s examine how they spend their leisure time. Dating around, partying, socializing. Funny how they don’t have the hunger or ambition at times. The valedictorians in my high schools and the governor’s award recipients for top academic including extra circular sports and activities are interesting. They ended up as engineer, just another engineer manager in charge of about 10 other engineers, small factory CFO, working as another technical grunt for aapl, goog, fb, msft nearing the 10yr mark, forgoing professional school to found a 7yr old startup that’s barely surviving still. Let’s examine how these spend their leisure time. Party, dancing, yoga, family of 2 small kids, going social, sports, alcohol. The once strong fire in their hearts seem to die shortly after schooling finishes and never rekindles again.

    Ok let’s look at the financially successful ones with a net worth of minimum a couple million. How do they spend their leisure time? Examining list of real estate properties, networking with like minded business owners, working overtime, learning a skill that companies will pay for, predicting trends. A flame inside them burns consistently every night.

    Why private k-12? It seems almost all parents and kids can only see and think for a single decade (called school), and neglect the subsequent 5-6 decades (this is called life) after schooling. It comes down to what lifestyle do you want to live, which most tend to overlook and not analyze.

    1. Interesting analysis. So perhaps Nature plays a bigger part in financial success than Nurture after school?

      I honestly don’t find being a mid-level engineer, project manager, middle manage at Mega Corp very satisfying after a while. It’s good to try and get to the highest level you can go. But to stay for a long period of time feels like a pity.

      What is it that you do?

  34. My friend went to Punahou and then MIT. ;-) I think he did well for himself in the prestige part. However, whether or not you end up hitting the financial jackpot may not necessarily correlate to your academic lineage.

    Sam, you’re the prime example of what hustling can bring. No lineage required! ;-)

      1. Hehe. Big assumption on your part to associate (no lineage != smart). :-) In fact, the trend of ‘no lineage’ -> ‘hustler’ -> ‘multi-state real estate mogul/early retiree/self employed’ says it all!

        My buddy is a software developer in a mid-range company working for ‘the man’. Making a livable income, but not much more than that. Perhaps you can send your future kids to Punahou/Iolani and public school and test out the ROI of the public vs private grade school!

  35. Great post as usual!
    I really like the spend twice as much time and half the money on your children.
    A colleague mentioned hey as long as parents leave enough money for their kids it doesn’t matter if they have kids older and die while the kids are minors. The kids will be covered via Trust.
    I had to control myself from screaming on my desk for her blasphemous comment.

    The truth is kids don’t understand the value of money until at least late elementary school or middle school or at least when they could go out on their own to spend.

    In early childhood parents are children’s best friend before socializing with similar age children .

    It is absolutely quality time spent with children over large sums of money left for kids that is more important. The time spent to teach your kids to fish in their formative years so they don’t keep asking to be fed by the time they’re 40. Otherwise how are they going to raise their own kids?

  36. I attended mostly public grade school but spent my last two years of HS at private school. The public school system was decent where I grew up and offered an honors program and AP classes. The problem was the HS was not well managed and there were a ton of misfits and bullies that really started to disrupt a lot of things. So, my switch to private school was a lifesaver in that regard and I also gained a lot more confidence in smaller all-girls classes. For me, two years of private school was just right and I was lucky to be on scholarship.

  37. It would be nice to see some analysis done on students graduating from top 10 public schools in the country vs students from average private schools. We chose to move in a smaller townhouse in one of the best school districts in the country (TE) rather that buying a bigger single family home and sending kids to average public school or a private school. The benefit of buying a house in a top school district is that it will hold its values even during a real estate crash, like the one in 2008 where home prices barely went down in my area. I could probably sell my house within 24 hours at market value, if there ever happens to be a need.

    1. I’m sure students graduating from top 10 public schools in the country are doing better than the average private school graduates and just as good as the top 10 private school graduates.

      I do like the idea of buying in a good school district, making money from real estate, and getting education for my kids from my property tax dollars. Seems like a no brainer.

  38. Our boys were in public school up to 8th grade, then on to private school for high school. We live in a very highly-ranked public school system. However, our high school is too huge for our taste (almost 2,000 kids per grade level). What the private high school is giving our kids are a smaller, more controlled environment, and a sense of community. It’s very difficult to get all these in such a big high school. Our boys are developing very deep friendships at their high school. The cost is very reasonable, about $20K per kid per year. At $80K per kid for a high school education, it’s totally worth it. We’re insuring our kids are getting the close attention they need at school and are being challenged academically, at the same time.

    1. Did you do do some analysis on where the 2,000 kids in the public high school went to college? It’d be interesting to see the stats.

      I like the idea of going from public to private school for HS. Best of both worlds. But it may be hard if strong friendships were made already in middle school. But if close by, they can still hang out!

      Keep us informed on where your boys end up going to college!

      1. Yes, I did some research on where most of the kids from the big high school end up. Most of them go to community college and some local 4-year colleges. Very few actually end up in Tier 1 schools. My boys are actually very academically-oriented so they have very lofty goals as to where to go to college. Not sure if they will make it, but they’re definitely working hard for it. My older one has been doing summer high school programs for the past 3 years (he was at Johns Hopkins last summer and will go to Georgetown this coming summer). I’m a a big believer that the best inheritance I can give them is education. So, both boys will have a $300K college fund each by the time they go to college.

  39. Hi Sam,

    My issue with paying that much for private schooling is the future value of the money you’re paying for school could simply be invested. Based on rough calculations, I came up with a value of almost $3,000,000 by the time the child is 42.

    That’s 20k/year times 12 years at 7%, combined with 50k/year for 4 years at 7%, then 20 years from 22 to 42 to compound with nothing else added.

    I’m not saying your child shouldn’t work. God forbid. I’m saying your child could go to public schools and even community college to learn accounting and the likes and be way better than most, because of the funding of wealth/retirement instead of paying for private schools.


    1. Jeff,

      Yes, it’s a great point that another commenter brought up. If my parents told me I could have $1,000,000 by age 30 if I went to public school for grade school and college, I would EMPHATICALLY accept as a kid!

      As an adult, I’m not sure b/c there’s a great sense of pride in coming up with your own wealth.

      I loved public school b/c I loved feeling like I was getting a deal for myself and my parents. Who doesn’t love getting a great deal? I’m biased for public school, so I’m trying to see the other side.


  40. We are in an excellent public elementary school district so our kids will all go there (the oldest is in 4th grade, my other kids are 5 and 3). The middle school is rated a 7, so after elementary school the kids start going their separate ways (half go to the public middle and the other half go to privates). I think we have decided we will try the public middle school as our oldest will be in the honors program and just cross our fingers. Our neighbors who have done public have said the middle school can be unchallenging, but the high school is amazing (although it’s only rated a 6) so you just have to get through the middle school years. Part of me thinks maybe we’re shortchanging our oldest by sending her to public school, but we got a late start to after tax savings and private school is $27K per year (we can save around $50K per year after tax now which would be cut in half with private school tuition).

    1. Hi JV,

      I wonder how your eldest will feel when older, if you send your other two to private school instead? The dynamic could get weird.

      I should ask my dad this b/c he went to public school, but his youngest sister went to Punahou.

      I guess I should ask myself this question b/c my sister went to private grade school as my parents were overseas, private undergrad, and private grad!

      Having your kid in a public school honors program sounds like a great deal. The fear would be what happens between classes.


      1. My oldest already says she wants to go to public school because she thinks it’s silly to spend so much money. She will be fine no matter where she goes. We do have a four year gap between oldest and middle (and 5 grades between them because we held my son back from kindergarten this year) so I hope to have a lot more money in the bank by the time my son gets to middle school. We live in Atlanta but are from the Northeast so for all I know we could be living back in the Northeast by then and then they can all go to great public schools.

        1. Ah, I predict your oldest daughter will be a financial juggernaut if she already knows and feels the tuition spread between public and private is onerously wide. Financial awareness at an early age brings about financial freedom at an early age!

  41. Jump in the water is fine! Have a kiddo, move back to Hawaii, and go for private school.
    A child will be the greatest blessing of your life. You and your wife will be bonded by the teamwork required to raise a child. No worries about divorce.
    A warm aloha welcome back to Hawaii, hopefully…
    We made the move 4 years ago and love it. The lifestyle, happy people, food, rich culture, gorgeous scenery, weather and ocean sports. Moving here ALREADY wealthy is the key to maximum enjoyment(ie not having to commute to a job in traffic,affording a nice home, and freedom to travel.)
    As far as public schools here on the island…they all suck. Overcrowded, lowest test scores in the U.S…lots of “scrap” daily. We have two kids in private highschool and one child in public. (The youngest struggles academically, so private is not an option.) We have also homeschooled, you will know what is the best option for your child when the time comes.
    Good luck on all your decisions.

    1. Love the positivity! Are you guys basically retired/full-time parents after making your money on the mainland/overseas? If so, what did you guys do and why did you return?

      When you say the youngest struggles academically, does that mean due to the struggles, s/he can’t get in to private school as a result? I have similar fears. But shouldn’t academically struggling kids benefit MORE by attending private school due to more nurture?


      1. We made our $ the old fashion way..hard
        We did the following over 28 years:
        Restored old rundown homes in nice neighborhoods(while we lived in them..then sold ’em or rented)
        Invested in stock market
        Hubby earned high income in career he loves( lived a middle class lifestyle on an upper class income.) We are in contract to receive a nice pension when he retires( 4 years?)
        Kept things simple. IE.dont own expensive toys, just surfboards. Eat out only for special occasions, scour internet for travel deals, etc
        Dusted ourselves off from a few major losses.
        Tried to have a lot of fun, be happy and appreciate all our blessings.
        Gave away 10% of our income.
        Hawaii was not on our radar, but we vacationed here and decided to stay. Freedom does that, it gives you the ability to say yes to something you never even dreamed of.

        Yes, our youngest has learning issues. The workload at private school would overwhelm him, and he knows that. We don’t want to set him up for failure. Most private schools do not have the resources to help learning disabilities. The state does have the resources, technology and trained teachers with a passion for these kids.
        This is a small island, however; when your child is of age, you will find the perfect educational fit for his/her personality and abilities. A school that will reinforce your values and not strain your pocketbook.
        Hope you host a “local reader luau” when you finally settle back to island life!
        Also, you have inspired us to start a blog… We are still very busy with kids but hope to launch as soon as feasible.

          1. Yes, we purchased a brand new house four years ago (with solar and central air) our days of restoration are over..for now
            Hawaii is a wonderful place to raise a family.(although we will consider moving to one of the outer islands if Oahu gets too overpopulated in the next 10 years.)
            I think it’s a great fit for you since your parents are here. Multi generation near each other is ideal.

            1. I’ve been thinking of purchasing a sweet house as well (

              I like Kahala and Aukai street. Where did you guys end up buying and how was the cost from compared to where you used to live/own?

              The funny thing is, Honolulu high-end real estate is SO CHEAP compared to SF. Like 50%-80% cheaper! I want to take my geo-arbitrage one step further by moving to Hawaii instead of just moving to Western SF in 2014.

  42. My kids go to a public school in an upper middle class district and I am very pleased with the quality. Also by not having to work extra to afford it, I am able to spend time with them. I take them to broadway shows, museums, and international travel, as well as help them with their homework and informally chat about various subjects.
    My wife is involved in their school activites and the money we save affords music lessons, acting and dance lessons, and donations to their school.

    As my kids progress to middle and high school I may reevaluate this decision with each transition, but so far it has turned out great. There are a few friends and bad influences, but rather than pulling away I ask my kids to think critically about why their friends do those things. Usually the other kids parents are divorved or going through a hard time so I try to teach my kids to show empathy and be a friend but avoid the drama.

    1. Hi Roberts – Good to hear things are going well.

      Can I ask you this? And I’d love all private school paying parents to answer if possible:

      What if your kid ends up going to a not highly ranked university where plenty of public grade school kids attend. How will you feel?

      I’m trying to predict how I would feel through this post. I’ve justified the suboptimal result as saying, “So long as they are happy and good, I’m fine with it.” But will I really be?

      I like how you’ve asked your kids to think critically about bad influences.


      1. I would be fine if they went to a less than stellar university. As long as they are productive and happy. I believe in the whole man concept – spirit, mind, and body. I would rather them be healthy in all aspects of life – relationally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, and financially then extremely successful in one and failing in others.

        This is definitely achievable with public education,

  43. Sam,

    From the depth of this post, I think I need to offer you and Ms. FS a hearty congratulations for having one in the oven. Schooling is one important part of parenthood but there are many others. I know you will be a great father!


  44. This is a great post. My wife and I have gone through many conversations about private vs. public. Our elder daughter is in a private school now, but we have many times wondered the “what-ifs”. I wish that we have the ability to do a mulligan if and when we are not happy with the result.

    Our decision was mostly based on the personality of our elder daughter, who is a bit more dependent; as a result, we hoped that she could benefit from the additional attention, coaching, and encouragement from the private school. So far, after 1.5 years, we are fairly happy with her development, she developed genuine interest in reading and learning and is much more confident in speaking in front of the class.

    There are many different types of private school, ranging from play-based with no homework to extremely academic focused. It is important to match a kid’s personality and tendency with what a school offers and fosters. We intentionally picked a school that excels in developing kids’ confidence, growing their interest in life-long learning, and putting extra focus on emotional maturity.

    Thanks for all the great posts and education!

    1. Thanks for sharing Larry!

      Isn’t a mulligan just pulling your child out of private school if things aren’t going well? Or do you think it’s too hard due to the relationships she’s built.

      To give you some perspective, I was “pulled out” of grade school every 2-4 years b/c my parents had to relocate to a new country every 2-4 years as foreign service officers. It was terrible to leave my friends, but I made new friends, and developed my social skills b/c I had to as the new kid in school all the time.

      I’m thinking most of us lack a lot of self confidence as kids. It just comes over time.


      1. When I said “mulligan”, I fancied an opportunity to do A/B test, which will never be possible in this case.

  45. FS, love your site. Would love to see how your above average net worth for above average calculations would change, if any, if you decide on the private school route.

    I am close to your averages for my age on 401(k) balance and home equity, but am way behind in after tax saving. Most likely due to fact I pay $18k total for two children to attend a private school in Texas (grades 5 and 3).

    FYI, we are very happy with our private school decision. Both kids have attended since pre-k 4.

    Thanks again for another great post.

    1. Howdy David,

      The average net worth calculation for above average people is just a rough guideline for folks to follow as they go through life. We all need a little bit of guidance yeah?

      From the agro pf blogger point of view, I would say “above average people” would look to hustle more to make up for the $18K in cost. I know if I’m ever in the situation where I’ve got to start forking out $25,000 a year in tuition I’m going to find a way to make $25,000 more a year so as to always be moving forward with my wealth building.

      Ever since leaving corporate America in 2012 I have not touched principal at all. It’s been a main goal of mine to not touch principal and reinvest dividends for as long as possible. It’s like one big game to keep on challenging myself.

      Further, making money becomes so much more meaningful once you tether your efforts to a purpose. What’s more purposeful than providing for one’s child?

      Best of luck with your kiddos!


  46. Cool, both you and I are products of the public school system. I don’t have children but I think I would rather physically move my family to a better public school district than to send the kids to private school. It’s a massive waste of money. I know my wife would differ.

  47. Pulled my first grader out of pvt school as the commute was too much, and school hrs too long for my liking. A kid out to have her chilhood and not spend 8hrs in school as a 1st grader. Turns out her zoned public school has a 8/10 rating and will be just fine. I am paying high prop taxes and need to take advantage of good public schools. Now, her commute and hrs are just fine. Public school it is for now.

  48. It seems like this is more of a qualitative argument than a quantitative one. To try and assess the level that teachers care towards their students between schools is really just in the eye of the beholder; I have a stable of memories of teachers that influenced and changed me (as I’m sure you do as well) as a result of my public education. It also seems like a false promise to assume kids whose parents shell out over $20,000 a year will somehow be more responsible in their learning as a result.

    I think the real argument for private school comes with access to resources and smaller class sizes. As a public school teacher, I’m often constrained in the types of tasks I can assign because of the demands 150 students place on my time. I know I could be more effective if I had 60-80 students split across five sections than 30, and private schools place fewer extra burdens on their teachers like mandatory in-services or mandated goal setting. I also know that in most private schools, easy access to electronic devices for learning and freedom from state standards allows for both greater depth of study and personal interest projects to thrive.

    I won’t have the ability to send my children to private schools, but I would say the richest experience you can give your child is to be a nurturing and attentive parent. That’s the best private education money can buy, and I plan to lean on whatever abilities I’ve honed from my time in the classroom to foster it at home.

  49. I’m have such mixed feelings on this. We don’t live in a terrible school district or anything, but with a larger family (5th on the way) and God being very important to me, I would love to send my kiddos the Catholic route (I thought $5k per year was a lot before I read all these comments, as I’m a very frugal MMM reader!) but thus far have opted to homeschool my oldest and 3rd child while sending the second to public school for special ed because of autism/ADHD. They actually have some private schools around here that would be great for him at almost 30k/year but its not even a consideration for us with that price tag. We have opted to do therapy covered mostly by our health insurance coupled with a shortened school day and the other two are home to help with that and we get all their work done while he is at school. While I don’t plan on homeschooling forever, it has been great for us. There are a lot of co-ops in the area, and even opportunities to enroll part time through the public school district to get these extracurriculars paid for with no interference in choosing curriculum (Michigan has some great homeschool laws). I teach a very classical curriculum which would not be found at even a lot of private schools, and dad and 2 sets of Grandparents are around to share their skills as well. It really works out well for our family. As far as public school goes, I have found that keeping in touch with teachers makes a huge difference, although with lots of kiddos at home I am not hugely involved.

    1. My brother and I was home schooled for ~4 years. My brother probably should have never gone back to public school, even though we were in one of the best public school district in the state. I probably shouldn’t have either as I could go at my own pace on basically all subjects while in home school, but I was limited significantly by grade in public school. As a result, I ended up having to re-take several levels of math, science and English when I did go back to public school since they wouldn’t let me skip so far ahead of my grade in public school.

      We were huge into sports and wanted to get involved in a public school program so we pressured our parents to send us back to public school. I still turned out very well but my brother went off the deep end after he got mixed in with the wrong crowd.

      1. Rob – Given you were so far ahead, and had to re-take several levels of courses, doesn’t that mean you simply crushed the public school curriculum, got much better grades and test scores than your peers, and ended up in a great college/career?

        For example, if you could be 16 years old and start freshman year of HS, surely you’d have an advantage!

        Your brother’s example seems like every parent’s worst nightmare. “Why risk the 1% chance my kid goes off the deep end. Let’s spend $20K instead for insurance” etc.

    2. Hi Debbie,

      Put it this way: 5 kids X $5,000 = $25,000. $25,000 equals just a little over one year’s tuition for many private schools for just one kid!

      Good value! :)


      1. True, true. Uncortunately most Catholic schools don’t have staffing for autistic kids unless he signifigantly improves his skills, attention span, and behavior. I know a lot of people that homeschool and at some point between grades 4-6 will send their kids to Catholic school. Maybe by the time my 8 yr old is in 6th grade 5k won’t seem like such a big deal. I figure I will go back to work eventually to cover educational expenses. But if they ever give me a 5k voucher to homeschool, maybe that will never happen, I can dream, at least!

        1. Hi Debbie. I totally understand. We are in a great public school district, but this year we opted to send our oldest children (first and second grade) to Catholic school.

          Here in Indiana (I am also from MI, I grew up there) it’s pretty affordable. We pay about $7K for 2 kids out of pocket. The parish covers the rest. If you are active Parish members it’s a 50 percent discount, then with sibling discounts I think as long as they are all in through 8th grade together (4 or more) the 4-5th ones are very very cheap. Indiana also now has vouchers for lower income families, not sure how MI works with that?

          That said, it is something close to my heart and I kept thinking if we move, will we be able to afford Catholic school, and how I will be sad if we cannot. We go to Mass every week, but my kids have learned SO much more than my husband and I (cradle Catholic’s that went to public school.) And we also have 5 kids.

  50. I teach in one of the top public school districts in the nation. Still, some parents in our area send their kids to private schools. In my view, it is a complete waste of money. Here, they send kids to private school for status, and sadly because they are just not comfortable mixing their kids with kids from other racial backgrounds. These parents would never acknowledge that last reason, but white flight is alive and well.

    1. Status is short lived if they don’t end up going to a status university no?

      It is very interesting how homogenous the private school student body is here in SF. The public schools are 60%+ minorities.

      As an Asian person, my kid would fit absolutely fine in a public school here as a result, and I don’t have as much fear about racial bullying as a result. 50% Asian? Awesome! Hope they all have strict parents who force them all to do their homework! :)

  51. I went to Punahou from K-12, studied engineering at Harvey Mudd (private), then got a MS at USC (private) and an MBA from UCLA (public). I work as a product manager for a tech company now. The average student at Punahou was good. Really wasn’t much of any students who would really lead others astray. Because of that, I agree that it’s a better environment for most kids. However, going to college, I met a lot of kids who went to public school and did fine. Happy to chat more about Punahou :)

    1. Thanks for sharing Kevin. Harvey Mudd is a tough school to get into! Congrats.

      During your graduate studies, were you doing some soul searching? Usually one gets an MS only or an MBA only.

      Can you share whether you got any scholarships/grants to HM and USC? I’m assuming no for your MBA. Punahou K-12 + 4 years HM + 1-2 years USC + 2 years UCLA = ~$500,000 in tuition no? I don’t think most parents can afford this. What do your folks do?

      As a product manager for a tech company, do you see other colleagues who are product managers who went to public school, just did one master’s, or did no master’s?

      Do you plan to send your kids to private grade school?


  52. I am the lucky participant of both worlds. I went to private Catholic schools K-12 in Lincoln NE. The Lincoln Catholic Diocese has worked very hard to keep costs low to attend their schools. Today the tuition PER YEAR for K-8 is about $180, for 9-12 it is about $2,500. This makes it affordable fore almost anyone (they waive tuition for those that can’t afford it).

  53. Jack Catchem

    Love the topic and have been attending more kindergarten admission interviews than I did for college!

    One additional consideration is the emergence of immersion programming in local public schools. If you can get into the lottery program, I think it’s a win for your child to be able to master bi literacy and a win for your finances since its public funding. It’s a lottery in every sense of the word!

    1. Yes sir. The magnet public grade schools are such a win. Alas, given my child/children will inherit my intelligence genes, no matter how intelligent their mom is, it probably won’t be enough for them to pass the admissions test/interview with ease. I was a very poor test taker no matter how hard I tried. I could never get straight A’s even after killing myself to do so either.

      As a result, I think I’ve got to do a lot more preparation for him and myself to pass.

      What type of questions or difficult questions did they ask in kindergarten admissions?

      1. Jack Catchem

        The public programs don’t have an “admission interview” or test, but they do have mandatory information sessions and desire 6 year “commitments” to the program.

        Essentially your child has a guaranteed seat in a public kindergarten in your area. If you want them to attend the immersion or charter schools instead, you complete an application, attend the seminar, and hope you win the lottery. There’s nothing as fair as chance, right?

        All kid’s names go into a “hat” and depending on what names the “sorting hat” (so to speak) kicks out, you either enter the program or not. Interestingly enough, the language spoken at home doesn’t effect the eligibility or give preferential treatment to the immersion programs.

        Still, the opportunity to be provided a free education AND literacy in a second language is more compelling for me than the exclusivity and prestige concomitant with many pricey private schools (and I grew up in one)!

        1. I DEFINITELY love the idea of having my child grow up bi-lingual. Knowing another language well, and by extension, the customs is a priceless gift. It’s one of the reasons why I’m always trying to stay up on my Mandarin. Failing, but trying.

  54. DIY Money Guy

    As a father of a one and a half year old twin girls this is a good thought-provoking article and some great insight from the other commenters. Private schooling could very well present a few more opportunities. But, as others have stated, no matter where our children go to school there will be plenty of opportunities out there. I think most of us here agree that opportunity and luck tend to find those that work the hardest day in and day out no matter where you went to school. Instilling a passion for learning and not to shy away from hard work in future generations may be the toughest and most important job any of us have.

    One last thought. You mentioned putting together a personal finance curriculum for high school seniors. Maybe consider shifting this focus to the younger grades. I think everyone reading this post understands appreciates the importance of education and personal finance. The sooner the better for learning. I think by the time kids are high school seniors they will already have a lot of their saving and spending habits instilled in them. I have read some articles stating personal finance habits start forming as young and five years old. Just food for thought.

    1. Good food for thought. OK, I’ll introduce the course for students starting in the 6th grade. I know my frugal habits started at around age 12-13 once I started needing money to do stuff w/ friends. My parents were quite frugal.

  55. As the father of two very young boys, I think about this often.

    While I’d like to send my boys to the best private schools for the best education, affording that, and helping with college / trade school, and funding our own retirement is a tough row to hoe. It’s a problem so daunting I haven’t truly tackled it yet, and I’m someone who loves personal finance, running numbers, planning, and optimizing. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone without the passion.

    The flip side is home schooling. There are great lesson plans and communities available now thanks to the Internet. And it gives you the benefit of great quality time with your children, and avoiding the dangers of them falling in with the wrong crowd. The biggest problem, even with the advent of group homeschooling, is the lack of socialization and lack of network. If it’s one thing business school taught me is the incredible power of an engaged and active alumni network.

    I suspect we’ll end up with the usual route – moving to the area with the best public school district we can afford, but it’s not my first choice.

    1. I thought planning for education expense was daunting until I spent several hours visiting the schools, speaking with administrations and teachers, and writing this post. Inputting some realistic expenses in a retirement planning calculator helped put my mind at ease as well.

      I NEVER thought I’d be one to plan so far ahead. But I’ve come to realize I’m a meticulous planner, from spending 2 years thinking about engineering my layoff, to setting up a 3-5 year business plan.

      The more you plan, the easier things get b/c you will be less blindsided by options.

      Further, having this platform to hear different perspectives is truly great for everyone.

    2. Mary Keenan-Sadlon

      It’s very interesting reading all of the thoughtful comments about the best way to educate one’s children. Move vs stay. Public vs private. The cost of universities. These are h-u-g-e life issues. In the next few weeks I’ll be writing my final cheque for the final semester of graduate school for my only child. She will have no indebtedness. It’s been a long haul as we are not affluent people.

      When educating one’s child there is no way to have all information concerning all contingencies. There is never enough information so we make our decisions based upon the best information at the time and hope for the best. There is always the unexpected. That’s how life is. People lose jobs. Businesses fail. Sickness and life threatening things can happen. Unless one is financially independent and working for themselves parents will need to decide what is the most important phase of education—where do they want to put the lion’s share of their dollars. And what kind of marriage and home life they envision.

      I’ve been an educator most of my life, working with children of all ages from pre-school and up in public, private and alternative schools. I was a corporate trainer, a government contractor, an educational consultant and instructional designer. Teaching, learning theories and how people learn and succeed has been my life’s work and interest.

      In the final analysis it comes down to a couple’s worldview and what they want for their family, their marriage and their children. And what they can Afford. Having spent nearly all of my working years in corporate, government, private and public classroom settings I realized that I didn’t want others molding and guiding my child, inculcating them with the latest ethics du jour. I wanted to do it myself. There are very harmful trends in education which have nothing to do with imparting learning. I chafed under the nonsense as a teacher, fought it tooth and nail as an administrator and saw countless children hurt by the numbing influence of the system. It doesn’t matter WHAT you pay, WHERE you move, HOW much you’re “involved”—-there is only so much the best parent and the finest teachers can accomplish. And I saw parents shoulder debt that later bit them badly in the quest for quality education both elementary and secondary. For most it’s making a choice between funding the 529 and private school. So I homeschooled. All the way. I did a bit of freelancing and consulting on the side andmanaged a rental property my husband and I owned but I gave up that professional salary and we lived on one income. An aside—-I came to motherhood late in life. 40.

      The tired bromide of isolation/socialization in homeschooling has been debunked. There simply wasn’t enough time to take advantage of all of the opportunities for “socialization.” I homeschooled for over 20 years and had a HUGE network of fellow homeschoolers. Many were former educators like myself. Doctors, lawyers, scientists, accountants, clergy, university professors, archaeologists, a Cirque du Soleil dad–lots of people homeschool. I created my own instruction as well as using off the shelf. Money and finance were taught right along with arithmetic. With homeschooling we were able to have superior flexibility. There was more time to specialize and for children to pursue their own interests. In highschool we had 4 years of math, lab sciences, foreign languages and special outside interests working in museums, university labs, etc. My kid had lots of friends her age but also a cadre of adults as friends who mentored her and helped her to decide her path at university. A NASA scientist working on the Space Station. A well known television personality. She was accepted to her university of choice and has done very well.

      The best of all? Our home life was wonderful. Not easy but wonderful. We wouldn’t trade it for anything. We decided that we did not want what the Wall Street Journal calls “The Juggle”. No nannies, au pairs, fighting about who picks up which child when, etc. No kid on drugs for so-called learning disabilities. Even on one income we maxed out retirement savings and investments. We will not be rich when we retire but we’ve had a marriage and home life second to none. I’m married 38 years and love and respect my man greatly. The downside? Loss of that second income. It’s a biggie. But that’s a statement of our values. It’s all what one values and what one can live with. I wish you all the very best!

      1. Thanks for sharing your journey Mary! Sounds like things worked out for y’all. What do you think your daughter would say about homeschool if we were to ask?

        Did you folks ever have the money talk about tuition, ROI on the graduate degree/college etc?

  56. I think the decision really depends on a few factors. The most obvious would just be if there are any decent public schools around. In the area where I grew up, there were a few good public schools (mine even received a blue ribbon award while I attended), so in that scenario it would probably make private school less worthwhile.

    I think cost is another concern. I think many of the higher end private schools do offer some form of financial aid for lower income families. If you’re on the higher end of the income spectrum, it might not matter as much on the cost of private vs. public.

    Another thing to consider is just the percentage of students that go on into top colleges (kind of like what you already considered). Personally, I think there is a great deal of intangible value for going to a top school (like the Ivy League) just from the network and connections.

    I have a friend that swears by private schools. She went to a great one for most of her academic career and her kids go to a really fancy one as well. So it really depends on the person. Personally, I would probably lean towards private schools as well unless the public school is really really really good.

      1. She runs her own management consulting company. Before that she worked in the family’s IT business. To be honest going to private school didn’t preclude her from that career path, but I guess it didn’t hurt as well.

        I’ve talked to her about the subject a few times before and she really likes private schools for a few reasons. First, she likes the smaller class sizes so the kids get more attention. Second, she says the parent-teacher communication is much closer so she feels like she has a better idea of what’s going on in school and what the kids are actually learning.

        Third, she likes how the community is much closer (they do a lot of events for the kids and all of the parents help out with it all). Fourth, she loves how their particular school has a flexible schedule and curriculum.

  57. I attended private school for for 2nd through 12th grade. As a child I hated it, because the public schools had cooler classes and sports such as woodshop, autoshop, football, etc. However, now in my early 30’s as I look around at myself and my friends who attended private school with me vs the friends of my youth who attended public school, the difference in lifestyles are night and day. Almost everyone who attended private K-12 are entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, surviving musicians, accountants, etc, while those who attended public school in these early years dropped out of community college because they were making “bank” working a $15/hr job which they are still stuck at 13 years later. Those who attended public schools and went on to universities fell into decent paying jobs in a variety of industries, but significantly fewer friends from this group made it into higher wage jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors. There was not as much of a difference between my private school K-12 friends who attended private universities vs public universities.

    1. Very interesting. Somewhat similar to the analogy of a renter finding a rent controlled apartment in SF/Manhattan 20+ years ago and never moving. If they had bought, they’d probably have made a lot more wealth. But the allure of cheap/sticky rent kept them stuck in a place even though they are 20 years older now.

      Maybe not the best analogy, but something I see all the time the older I get.

  58. I think its likely we go the route of vouchers at some point and all kids attend private school. Average price school cost is a lot less than $20k/year but most of the top ones are.

    My issues with private school is this: If you pay $20k/year for K-12 and another $20k/year for 4 years of college, you’ll have spent $320k in money with a very low IRR. However, if you setup a trust fund and put $20k/year in the trust for the same 16 years (stop when the kid hits 22), earn a 7% return annually and then give the trust to the kid at 35 years old when they should be mature enough, you’ll be giving the kids a $2.3 million trust – 2x what a typical college grad earns compared to a HS grad.

    When put in that light, you are much better off sending your kids to public schools (or vouchers), going the cheapest route you can for college, and just spend a lot of personal time with your kids to raise them well and instill good values. JMO. We’re not having kids so a bit of academic but we are considering the same with nieces and nephews.

    1. Wow, when you put it that way…. GOOD POINT! And it’s not just $20K/year for 4 years of college either. It’s $40K – $70K/year now as public uni tuition is $20K+ and private uni tuition is $40K+, and room and board.

      I never thought about the cost/return the way you put it. Oh man, gotta run some numbers!

      I’m sure most kids would gladly choose a $2.3M+ trust fund at age 35 and just go to public school.

    2. Yeaoooow! great argument! You could definitely spend your time teaching your kids about entrepreneurship, teach them to invest intelligently and send them on their way with enough capital to put down payments on several rental properties and other investments.

  59. David Michael

    Great topic Sam.

    I went to Catholic grade school and three years in a Jesuit High School in Washington, D.C. which led to a scholarship to Georgetown University.

    Where was my best education and experience in school? Hands down…my junior year in an International High School in Athens, Greece. The school was tiny composed of kids from many different parts of the world where parents were mostly diplomats. We had about 15 students in each class and because of that everyone was forced to participate in sports, theater, travel programs, etc. On long weekends we traveled all over Greece visiting ruins and studying history on location with knowledgeable teachers and guides. Besides being on a basketball team for the first time and president of various clubs, it was a social experience of being in class with girls. I grew up in one year. It was fabulous and directed my entire professional life. Note, in the 1950’s the schools both in D.C. and Athens were only about $200 a semester.

    Today, given the costs at $10,000-20,000 a year, I’d say forget it for the average middleclass family. But…we have eleven grandchildren and several have attended Waldorf and/or public charter schools in language immersion. I attended some of their classes plus graduations, and they were nothing short of amazing! But… they cost at least $10-20,000 a year. The results?
    One granddaughter speaks six languages fluently, including Mandarin and graduated from the University of Venice, Italy last summer where the tuition, etc cost half of the University of Colorado in Boulder where her parents live. Today she is studying theater in New York. Another is a world champion climber (Number one world in her age group) and is currently studying in France. The list goes on and on.

    However, the bottom line, is several studies have shown that public school students do as well or better than private school students in college starting in sophomore year. The trick is to get in and stay in. Many private schools are like an insurance program which insure entrance to college. After that, it is up to the individual student.

    At age 80, I am no richer or poorer than most of my friends from public school. Or, a trade school. But…what a ride. It’s been a blast either way!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts David! Good job rocking on at age 80 :)

      The cost difference seems smaller back then, but maybe not if I do the inflation math.

      If you could do one or two things over again (anything), what do you think they would be? How about when you were age 40?


  60. Jim @ Route To Retire

    I got to experience both worlds. I was a private school kid from 1st through 8th grade. High school and college were both public. And to be honest, I didn’t notice a ton of difference with the change (exception being high school is a different ball game anyway). But the teachers I had in high school seemed to care about students’ education as much as the teachers I had in elementary school.

    That said, I think a lot of this depends on the area you’re in. If you’re in an area where the public school system is not very good, then private school should definitely be considered.

    My daughter is in the first grade at a public school and I’m very happy with most everything there so far. The teachers really care, the curriculum is very good, and other parents/students seem to be down-to-earth. We’ll see if that changes down the line, but for now, I plan to keep her enrolled in public school.

    — Jim

    1. Good to hear Jim. I wonder whether every parent who thinks about sending their kids to private grade school or is sending their kid to private grade school believes public grade school is terrible? When in reality, if you actually visit the schools, look at where their graduates went to school, and talked to the teachers and administrators, it’s really way better than expected?

      1. Jim @ Route To Retire

        I would bet that’s definitely the case for a lot of parents. I know a few families who live in some of the best rated public school districts in the state, but would never even consider sending their kids to anything but a private school. Strikes me as a little odd, but it’s something that’s just ingrained in them for whatever reason.

        If I thought that my daughter was not going to get a good education in the school she was in, I would absolutely look at moving her to a private school, but I just don’t think that’s the case.

        — Jim

  61. Public charter schools are another option. Our oldest daughter went to a charter high school with a math & science emphasis and loved the experience. She is now a PhD student in computer science. What public schools need is more reasonably priced competition — public school monopolies do not foster excellence. Charter schools are a good start, particularly for students who are trapped in poorly performing school districts.

  62. My son has been in private preschool(/day care) for a similar price tag as what you’re looking at. It was necessary because I work full time. It was also a great experience because his preschool has a very low student/teacher ratio, they have the coolest extracurricular programs, and he’ll start kindergarten already reading and doing basic math. I think given that I had no choice but to pay for childcare, it turned out great. However, between school, sports, music lessons, and trying to superfund his 529 plan, it has been extremely stressful. I can’t imagine paying for private school any longer because our local public elementary school is excellent, and also because I attended public school and I and my public school peers got accepted to top colleges and also became bankers/doctors/lawyers/artist. A huge, huge burden will be lifted next fall when there’s no more tuition, and his 529 account is funded such that he has enough to attend our state college, so any gains or additional contributions will be gravy and allow him to go to somewhere more expensive, or maybe graduate school. I’d say private school is most worth considering if you’re really wealthy (like way more than $100,000 per year in income), have 2 or less children, and/or if you live somewhere with poor public schools.

      1. Personally I don’t. I am in a better situation than 5x and it still caused me a lot of stress. I’d be okay paying 10% of net income (aggregate, across all kids) for private school, but I recognize that others would be willing to make bigger sacrifices. I think the decision is influenced by the quality of nearby public schools and a desire to provide at least as much for your children as your parents provided for you (since I went to public school and did fine, I have a harder time wrapping my head around private school going forward).

        1. So perhaps the true comfort household income is closer to 15X tuition then e.g. $300,000 income, $20,000 tuition. I can see that income as a high enough income to afford $20,000 after tax. But as we’ve seen in the $500,000 a year household income post, things add up quick!

          If colleges are losing its value proposition, then by association, grade school is as well. But, since we’re focused on other things such as safety, raising good people, etc, grade school value proposition should get hit less.

  63. Torn on Catholic Schools

    I think if you can afford a premier private school education, then it is definitely worth it. I think the question for many is whether or not they can “afford” it. In your case, it sounds like this isn’t really an issue. So why wouldn’t you want your child in the best learning environment possible with the smartest little kids as their peers and most qualified teachers guiding them? Even if the benefit is marginal, wouldn’t you still want the best education and environment you can responsibly afford?

    My problem is a more typical middle class problem. And honestly, I think it’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. There were certainly more important decisions in my life, such as proposing to my wife, but those decisions were no-brainers a lot of the time. This problem is strong public schools vs good (but not elite) private schools. I’ve found conflicting research papers on both sides and ultimately I think this comes down to specific situations. One study from the University of Chicago said that publics were better when controlling for things like income and environment that may skew data for private schoolchildren, but then a Harvard study with multiple methodologies used the same data and concluded that at best the data is inconclusive and possibly even likely that privates are better. Fortunately, I think we are in a win-win situation for our kids.

    My wife and I have 2 little ones and are hoping for a 3rd (and final) in another couple of years. We have 3 options for K-12:

    1.) Send the children to the local public schools. These are above-average public schools, but not the best in the area. Biggest Pro: No new costs.

    2.) Send the children to the local Catholic schools (we’re Catholic). These schools have won Blue Ribbon awards and are very solid schools. They also offer religious education, great church community, like-minded parents, and private school connections for my children. The total cost for 3 kids would be roughly $350k, accounting for inflation and multi-child discounts.

    3.) Move into a better school district in 2 years and send kids to public school. These are also Blue Ribbon award-winning schools and we would be living in a somewhat nicer house. The increase in mortgage and taxes/insurance/fees/etc would be, you guessed it, around $350k. We would also have more equity built into the home (maybe $250k in 30 years?).

    I went to Catholic school K-12, then public for undergrad and grad school. My wife went to public for K-12 and undergrad, then private for grad school. We both have Master’s degrees and 6-figure jobs. So, anecdotally, we know all options are good. Also, the thought is that the kids would want to stay in the same schools as their friends and not switch from public to private or vice versa.

    I think our decision will come down to option #2 vs #3. But which do we choose? A potentially better school with a great community and safer environment? Or, a potentially as good school with slightly lower scores, a nicer house to live in, and a lot more home equity in case we ever needed it later in life? It’s a tough call, but $350k is still a good amount of money. I’m really not convinced one option is necessarily better, but do we just go “safe” and go private and dive into the parish community or move and enjoy the nicer house/area?

    1. Good luck in your decision. My wife and I had same considerations – though we were in a good public school system. We have three and we have decided on Catholic education. Unfortunately, I do think the Catholic leadership must address the rising cost of receiving a Catholic education, especially for families of 3 or more. There needs to be a way to bridge the two commands of (1) be fruitful and multiply and (2) give your kids a Catholic education.

      1. Torn on Catholic Schools


        Do you receive any financial aid? Our local grade schools are around $6000 for 1 kid, $9500 for 2 kids, and $12,000 for 3+. Then high schools jump to about $15,000 each. I think high schools give aid to around 40% of families, but I’m sure that includes small amounts of aid and who knows what the income cutoff is.

        1. Your school gives much better discounts with each additional kid than mine. Hardly any discount at all, which stinks.

          The high school gives similar aid amount, but I doubt I’d qualify, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t even want it, because I would just feel guilty about some of the other things I spend my money on.

          Again, I would rather they focus less on the amount of aid they give out and more on making it affordable for those who have more than a couple kids. Your school does a better job of that than mine since it offers such a good discount on multiple kids (comparatively).

      1. Torn on Catholic Schools

        Ha, lately I’ve been leaning more toward option #3. It’s funny, my wife started out at option #1 and is now more on option #2, whereas I’ve gone more from #2 to #3.

  64. Sam,

    It will depend greatly on where you live and the quality of the public schools available. Many larger cities may have excellent public high schools but you may not have a straight path of excellent public schools from K-12. I have no idea what the public schools in Hawaii are like.

    I have some friends who went to private grade school then switched to the public high school because it was as good if not better than the private schools they attended.

    I choose to send my 3 children to private school for many of the reasons you mentioned above and the fact that there are not any good public grade schools in our district.

    One reason you left off is that some people may chose to send their children to a private school for religious reasons as well.

    I looks like you have quite the plan. You might like this article which shows that people are spending more time with their kids now than they did in the past.

  65. Step 1: Yes! Move back to Hawaii!

    Step 2: Send me a note with your address.

    Step 3: I’ll see you next December — it’s COLD here!

    I’m wondering if private school is just like college — that the key factor that determines a person’s success is not the school, but the person himself/herself.

    For instance, I’ve seen it quoted many times that someone who gets into Stanford but instead goes to let’s say Michigan State, ends up doing as well as someone who goes to Stanford.

    Just wondering if the same holds true for private school, though you could argue that kids are more influenced at a younger age so perhaps it is more important…

    1. I don’t think it’s quite apples to apples because many of the most coveted companies to work for have target schools. If your university is not on their target list, then you’ve got to get in by way of a career fair or connections. Hence, I recommend parents look at the target school lists of employers before sending them to university.

      But, we may be getting way ahead of ourselves. Then again, why not. It’s so easy to find information out online now.

      Man, I went open house hunting again and it was AMAZING……………… I love it in Hawaii!

  66. It really depends on your location. Our neighborhood schools are pretty good so we’re sending our kid to public school. If they were really bad, I would consider private school or charter school.
    Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the money if your public school is acceptable. I’d rather invest the money and he can use it as seed money for a business or something.

  67. Great post, welcome to the world of fretting about your children’s education! :)

    Taking your “maximize ROI” approach one step further though – think about compounding also. You might also want to look into education *before* kindergarten / grade school levels. I’m talking about preschool, or “pre-K” as they often call it. Assuming there’s benefit to putting a kid in school 2 years earlier than kindergarten, think about the “compound interest” ROI you’ll be earning by starting early at age 3, vs. waiting to begin at age 5 (kindergarten)!

    My (now ex wife) and I put our daughter into a highly rated private preschool near our home. It wasn’t cheap – $1,300 a month. At first I balked at the idea of paying that much money for my kid to go learn how to color with crayons. I assumed (incorrectly) that it was nothing more than glorified babysitting, and not worth the expense or effort. But at a good preschool, your child will learn a lot of the basics that other kids don’t learn until 2 years later, in kindergarten and grade school. You’re investing early, and up front – then letting compounding take over.

    And it’s not just about learning basic writing, spelling, and math – it’s the confidence that comes from taking on a challenge and learning to do new things. By the time a kid gets through preschool, they’ve already become comfortable and confident in a school environment – they’ve learned valuable social skills, how to focus on challenging new things, and that education can be a lot of fun. Sets your kid up to be even more successful in grade school because they’ve already “warmed up” well. Talk about getting a leg up on the competition! That is a VERY high ROI in my mind.

    In my case, the marriage blew up last year. My daughter is now 6 and in first grade, doing quite well though. In a split-parent household, children’s education brings new challenges and my ex and I are doing our best to make sure our kids are top priority. My son turns 2 today, and the time to start thinking about preschool for him (and who pays for what, and how) is upon me. Gotta do my best to make sure both of my kids get the same opportunities, and I believe private preschool is still a good investment – even if the affordability is harder now post-divorce…

    1. Oh, don’t kid yourself. Fancy daycare centers are glorified babysitting. There are a bunch near my house – some that are $1,500 per month or more. Yes, private daycare centers have iPads, better materials, bigger playgrounds, and a more strenuous schedule, but they aren’t setting your kids up for Harvard.

      My kids both went to an in-home center. I paid around $175 per week for both. With the money I saved, I have built up a large amount to pay for their college education. They literally went to daycare in a family room that was set up as a daycare in someone’s home, yet they are both extremely bright and at the top of their classes in kindergarten and 2nd grade. Both are reading performing at a higher level than their peers, but I credit that to the fact we worked on school at home and read to them every day.

      Where you send them for daycare matters, but so does what you do at home. You don’t need to spend a fortune to give your kids a leg up.

    2. Sorry that your marriage blew up. I’ve noticed a lot of marriages end in divorce within a few years after kids come. Any thoughts on this? Maybe an insightful guest post on Divorce After Kids! I really am curious (and afraid) as to whether it’s the kids, the lack of intimacy, the stress, the money, etc.

      One of my things to do is to do more research on Pre-K. But please do tell me what schools test 5 years olds on? ABCs? Number counting? I need some insights! Thx

      1. Hi Sam,
        Great questions about kids/ ruining marriages. I had the same concerns before kids. My conclusion is, yes, kids absolutely ruin marriages. Long-term sleep deprivation, zero free time, and so much guilt! We don’t support young families in this society and it’s so expensive to get any help. And I’m one of the lucky one’s with parents that help so much. Once my husband and I screamed at each other for 10 minutes about who had gotten more sleep. And I imagine this isn’t a very rare occurrence. Everything you mention above, the lack of intimacy, stress and money create a yawning chasm between you and your spouse. All hobbies/ free time are out the window. Now we fight about who does the dishes and who “gets a break”. And you have to understand I’m married to the most patient, wonderful man in the world! But I would do anything just to be alone, just for an hour! Commute-Work-Commute (store!)- kids- baths- kids bed- pass out- Repeat for 10 years. Shower? Um.. sometimes? Intimacy? No WAY!!! Tired strangers passing in the night… or is it day? Who’s sick this week? Who can stay home? Why are you such a big jerk? (this can go either way). Most of my friends got divorced when their kids turned 5. Once kids are old enough to shower themselves and get to school, you don’t really need this other stranger to help you take care of them anymore… and wouldn’t it just be so nice to get a break? Or that’s just what they tell me. I’m still married, to the nicest man in the world. When my kids turn 5??? Oh, ask me again! ;-) Keep in mind, this is not the politically correct opinion, just a secret torture most of us are living. Most parents smile and tell you all about how “blessed” they are, best thing that ever happened to them, etc. but the reality can be quite different. Do I adore my children with every fiber of my being? Absolutely!!! Can it traumatize a perfectly healthy relationship? Uh, yeah.

        1. Mary Keenan-Sadlon

          Honest and absolutely true. Outstanding reply. This is why so many marriages are ending. You said it all. I couldn’t take “the juggle” because I knew that our two careers and children wouldn’t mix. Something had to give so I came home.

      2. Luckily one of your readers is an administrator of grades UPK, Kindergarten and Grade 1 for over 600 kids ;) If you ever want to know about the specific assessments we give kids in those grades, I’d be happy to share.

  68. Here in Asia there is huge demand to send children to the top International schools. Since the traffic is so bad, it’s not uncommon for wealthy families to buy another house close to the school, living there during the school week and going back to the ‘old’ house during the weekend. Costs are between $10K – 35K USD per year and for locals to get a spot in they need to pay “tea money” of up to $60K per child as a one off fee to get a spot. For the foreigners they are exempted from this so long as the quota for their nationality is not filled.

    Yes, I’ll be sending my daughter there in 2018 at 5 years old- hopefully getting in won’t be a problem.


    1. I really enjoyed attending international schools growing up. They were amazing. I’d do it again in a heart beat.

      The thing is, I don’t think I had a choice to attend the local public schools w/ different systems for US colleges. Further, the government paid for my tuition. Either way, I thought growing up overseas gave me so much perspective. Well worth it if one’s parents have international jobs.

  69. I think private schools run a much wider range in quality than public schools. If you’re a parent, the onus is on you to figure out if you’re sending your kid to a good private school or a bad.

    My husband’s parents sent him to a $12,000/year private religious school for his K-12. My parents sent me to a free public school. When we first met, we had a lot of fun comparing our two experiences.

    My husband was horrified to find out the lack of education he received despite the high price tag. My free public school sent me off for job training in the natural resources field every morning for the last two years I was in school, and offered AP classes for college credit. My husband’s private school never taught him how to even write a resume or prepare for a career in any way.

    The counselor at my free public school worked for hours one-on-one with every student who wanted to go to college, even making phone calls for me to all of the colleges I was interested in. My husband’s private school never even mentioned college at all.

    My public school had a range of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom were children of drug addicts from the trailer park next door (and many of whom were my friends). Hanging out with them taught me I wanted more out of life than the trailer park existence. My husband went to school with (all white) kids of a high socioeconomic status, and was shielded from the “baddies.” So, naturally, he fell in with the wrong crowd for many years until he joined the Army and got his act together. ;)

    I’m sure that private schools can be fantastic institutions. The one you described above looks amazing. But just because a private school is elevated above the rest of us mere mortals doesn’t mean it’s always a better experience. As with anything, it’s up to you to vet where your money is spent.

    1. Good perspective. I plan to vet like the CIA! haha. I actually will, b/c why not. It’s fun. It’s good writing material. It helps others think about the decision. And it’s $20,000+/year!

      I will spend time researching commensurate to the amount of money I spend and the value of what I’m spending my money on. What’s more important than education?

  70. I actually went to Punahou for many years before my parents moved to the mainland and I switched to public school. I think the answer depends on location; the public schools in Hawaii are so terrible that parents serious about education HAVE to send their kids to Punahou or Iolani. Elsewhere, it really seemed like public schools were plenty good. I ended up going to a public school that parents attempt to get into before sending their kids to private school, which makes the cost/value ratio seem silly.

    1. Are they really that terrible though? I was talking to my dad and the local public schools in Kaimuki got top grades.

      Where did you end up going to college and what are you doing with your life now? Always interesting!

  71. Christine Minasian

    What a GREAT post Sam!!!! I’ve been waiting for you to do something like this as I have 3 kids that have gone to private grade schools and private high schools. It is crazy expensive (20K per year for HS) plus property taxes, etc. Maybe our new government will make the school voucher choice happen like it did in Indiana! What a great idea to have your tax dollars follow your kids school- now we have a better choice for our kids right?!?! My senior in HS is looking at colleges right now as we speak…since she attended a Jesuit/private HS, she is getting major merit scholarship money at good private colleges now! So for her to attend a private college, it’s going to cost LESS than our public university (U of I which is a really good school). So for us…we are glad we spent the money, you are right- the private school parents are invested in their kids’ behavior and their academic achievements it seems. The teachers are top notch as they are treated with respect and global teaching opportunities. The expectations are high for these kids which can be good and bad- lots of stress unfortunately. Thanks again for all your work!

    1. Best of luck with the eldest one! Very cool that she is getting lots of merit scholarships. Where do you think she will end up going?! Very exciting times for you guys.

      I’d love for our tax dollars to specifically help our kids instead of go into a government blackhole where they continuously lose track of their expenses.

      As someone who pays $50,000 a year in CA property taxes, I would LOVE to have my kids get a good public school education. To pay $50,000 a year in property taxes + $20,000+ a year in private grade school tuition sounds really painful.

  72. My wife did both public and private school. She loved her time in private school with smaller class sizes and thought highly of the education that she received in private school. She says if she had it her way that she would have stayed in private school throughout her grade school education.

    The reason that she had to go back to public school is her mother could no longer drive her to private school and they didn’t offer any type of transportation. She also said at times she was a bit lonely as there were a total of 12 students in the class but only 3 other girls. So he pool of friends was a bit small.

    Good luck in your decision!!!

    1. That is interesting regarding potential for loneliness/unhappiness if the school is too small. What if your child just doesn’t fit or get along with anybody right? I guess there must be an optimal individual class size (~20?), and grade size (100?). Not sure.

  73. Thank you for the post. My wife and I are debating between private schools and moving out of NYC where public schools are excellent, but taxes are prohibitively high.

    In NYC, getting into the top high schools is as competitive as, if not more than, being admitted to the nation’s top universities. As an example, my neighbor’s son got into one of the so called “specialized” schools, where there are 300 applicants per spot. He was accepted because he is the State’s violin champion in his category….

    Now, assuming that my children cannot play the violin that well and that do not have the academic skills to beat 300 other applicants, we are left with the option of mediocre to bad public schools or expensive private schools ($30k+ per child per year of after tax income)

    So the natural choice is to move where we will have to pay $30-40k per year in real estate taxes and be able to give my children a top-notch education (and save in tuition)

    I feel we are fortunate because we can pay, but many people do not have choices.

    In the post, you talk about public vs. private schools, but many time the choice is bad public vs. expensive public schools.

    1. I think the specialized high schools are based on test scores from the SHSAT…at least that was how it was back when I went. I got into two of those schools but chose to go to another highly competitive school, which is not based on tests but your grades and standardized test scores. I have heard that it is even more competitive now than they were back when I went.

    2. Thank goodness there’s always the viola to be state champion in! :) And if not, then the saxophone is a pretty cool instrument.

      Bad public vs. expensive public due to high property taxes? I would assume expensive public is no such thing, unless you had to donate to the public school.

      How hard is it to get into Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech etc?

      1. People who live in good school districts in suburban Chicago, IL = expensive public schools. Where we live (Barrington), you pay about 2.5 percent of your home value annually in property taxes. And the homes are pricey for what you get as well… So $600,000 home means $15,000 in taxes. All to get into our awesome public schools. Still, the other choice is to pay even more for private school. So I agree – it is bad public schools in less well off areas versus expensive public schools.

    3. It’s not that hard to get into one of the SHS or better publics. Don’t sweat it. It seems weird if you aren’t from NYC, but it all works out.

  74. Is private school for K-12 worth it? It depends on where you live and your school district. If you live in an area where public schools suck, then yeah. I can totally see paying for private school. But if you live in an area with great schools, I don’t think it’s worth it.

    We live in one of the top school districts of our state, so no, I don’t pay for my kids to go to private school. The $ I might spend is better saved for college, which I do every month. Unlike you, I do not believe college will be “free” in the future. And if something that could easily be $100,000 by then becomes “free,” God help us all.

    1. “God help us all”. Interesting take. Due to the proliferation of information and it’s availability through technology, I’m afraid that scenario is already beginning to form. The millennial generation, who have paid tremendous costs to attend college, will not continue the status quo of paying incredibly expensive education costs with no guaranteed ROI for their children. I know I’d rather give my kid the money in a trust or buy them a house, or something along those lines, and tell him to go to a state school if he really wants to go that route.

      1. An alternate interpretation of that comment could be that God help us all if a $100,000 college education becomes “free” for everyone, it would likely be due to a change in tax law requiring taxpayers to pay for it. That’s the way I read it anyway.

  75. The Green Swan

    We thought long and hard about the private vs. public schooling systems as well. Before we even had kids on our mind we were buying a house and realized how important it was to buy in a good school district. Our realtor kept telling us “even if you never have kids, the school district will affect your resale tremendously.” I’m grateful for him pushing us to feel comfortable with the school district… well before we thought about having kinds. I admit it was strange to us to conduct research on grading for elementary/middle/high schools before the idea of even having a kid, but so worth it. We did not go through as much research as you’ve listed above, but still a little is very important before you settle into a house and district. From there we gave ourselves sometime to further discuss the public vs. private route. As our son gets closer to reaching kindergarten we’ve decided to go the public route. Both of us did and we feel confident in our system here. I will say, however, the private route would make sense if we lived in an area with poor public systems.

    1. Got to love the relative INELASTIC demand curve of parents spending money on their children to boost the value of houses in good public school districts.

      There must be this level of guilt from all parents who wonder, “What if I didn’t do enough or spend enough on my child?”

  76. My wife attended private school while I’m a product of public grade school education. I also now live in a state where most people my age went to private schools due to bussing. Most of my coworkers still send their kids to private school due to memory. My conclusion on the matter is two fold. First it possible the local public schools all suck, if so a good private school is the better bet. If there are good local private schools then it seems the only difference is private schools tend to go out of their way to drive parent involvement. Public school meanwhile leaves parent involvement to the individual for better or worse. Honestly imho parental involvement is the key over the long run, not the school.

    As for us, our kids will go to public school for now. In recent years 2 decent public schools have appeared in the state plus a few nationally ranked charter schools. If we were in a different school zone like in our last house our kids would go to private school.

  77. Go Finance Yourself!

    There’s no substitute for good parenting and a good environment at home. Plenty of opportunities will be available to you regardless of whether you go to public or private school. It’s what you decide to make of them that counts. Not all public schools, and private as well, are created equal though. I live on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area. The public school system here is very good. If you live on the Missouri side, which is a 3 minute drive from my house, you better either start saving for private school tuition or move before your kid reaches school age as the public school system is terrible there.

    Rather than spend $20k or more per year for private school, I would move to an area with good public schools and focus on providing a strong and supportive environment for your kid at home. I think the advice in the quote from Abigail Van Buren is great:

    “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.”

    1. We moved from CA to Kansas two years ago, just for my kids to go to public schools. My son just started kindergarten, and so far stuff and teachers are very supportive. Of course if we could have extra money, I would prefer private schools. We’re new parents and our concerns that public schools don’t focus on teachings my kids morality to think for themselves rather teaching them to be obedience. Teaching styles and parenting styles are very important. We still finding out what parenting styles we are, what teaching styles that my son is learning in his kindergarten now. In Kansas we don’t have much options for private schools, but they have good public school system…My son is a “three B’s (Bight, Bored, Boy)”. Within a week, attending public kindergarten, my son’s teacher sent us emails telling us that they needed help to deal with my son, and they had to send him to school social worker and counselor. I also feel sad and hopeless every time I drop off my son. They just take my son out of my hand through I sign up as a visitor. My heart hurts every time I drop off my son. We are waiting to have a meeting with them. We’re still figuring out what to help my son…

  78. Great topic, Sam! I have this conversation with friends in Nashville all the time. Unfortunately, most public schools in Davidson County are pretty poor. People are forced to move to the suburbs (if they can afford it) or shell out a ton for private school. The difficult reality is that neither of these choices are affordable for most people. Is it worth it to relocate to top performing public school counties vs. paying for private school. Or does it make more sense to sink that money into private college / grad school? Admittedly, I am biased because my entire education was public.

    1. It really does come down to that. We moved in January of 05 to a school district that is consistently ranked in the top 10 of public schools in the country.

      Before that we lived in a school district that was in the bottom quartile. The Regular Catholic school was falling apart. At the time my daughters were 3 and 5 years old. The tuition for private Catholic school was 10k per year per child (in 05, sure it is much higher now) before they hit you up for capital campaigns. The high schools would run me 22k a year per kid now.

      My mortgage went from 750 a month in the old house to what is now 2100 a month after 3 refi’s in my current home. I am now seeing rapid appreciation of my home value. No doubt we made the right move from a quality of life and financial perspective.

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