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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 pre-schools.
- 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.
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.
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