Financial Literacy - Families and Finance
smart spending
Choosing a school for kids in grades K-12

Kendrick says that parents have reported that home schooling deepened and enriched family relationships more than they ever thought possible.

Charter school

Forty states allow charter schools, which are similar to public schools in that they receive funding from taxpayers. But charter schools themselves operate independently of the public school system.

They can be traditional schools or focused on art, science or other themes contained in a mission statements.

If a school fails to live up to the financial and academic standards set out in its charter, it can be closed.

Cost: Free to parents, but charter schools get their funding from the same place as public schools: taxpayers.

One argument that charter school advocates make is that charter schools are more fiscally efficient because they must operate in accordance with their charters -- academically and financially.

The per-student expenditure for charter schools is, in general, less than public schools. A study by Ron Zimmer and RAND Education found that for the 2001-2002 school year, the average per student expenditure was $6,204. The median was $5,408.

For that same year, the Report Card on American Education released by the American Legislative Exchange Council found that the average per student expenditure was $7,557 in public schools. The median was $7,450.

Benefit: With charter schools in their communities, students have a choice when it comes to learning, which leads to better educational opportunities for kids.

Because they are taxpayer-funded, charter schools must accept everyone who applies. But there are a limited number of openings so enrollment is done on a first come, first served basis, or by lottery in the case of over-enrollment*.

Charter school advocates also believe that getting rid of the bureaucracy and red tape that clogs the public school system leaves more resources available for kids and streamlines the school.

"In general terms, things like school choice and charter schools -- the more we can get to the sector, the more efficient it's going to be and the more it's going to save parents, nonparents and taxpayers in general," says Schaeffer.

Private school

Private schools can be religious or secular and vary in their focus and teaching methods.

Parents should be sure they are getting their money's worth from a private school education, says Levin.

"You have to make sure that is the one you want if you determine that the private school is better than the public alternative that you face. They all charge fees, and it turns out that even when you get what are called 'statistically significant advantages in achievement,' they are very small," he says.

Cost: The most recently completed government survey, the 2003-2004 schools and staffing survey conducted by the Department of Education, found that the average tuition for private elementary schools was $5,049 per year. The average tuition for high school grades was $8,412.

Of the 28,380 private schools in the United States, only about 12 percent cost more than $10,000 per year. Thirty-one percent cost less than $2,500 per year.

Benefit: In general, private schools have a lower teacher-to-student ratio, and teachers are recruited from a different pool than public school teachers.

Whereas all 50 states and the District of Columbia require a license for public school teachers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that certification requirements are left to the discretion of the individual private schools.

There's no guarantee that private school teachers will be much better or worse than their public school counterparts because they are not subject to across-the-board standards.

Culture and atmosphere is important with private schools, whether it's an expensive brand-name school or a school in a lower-income area.

"Charter schools or private schools in the inner city or low-income districts are sometimes criticized for not having test scores that are any higher than local public schools. Oftentimes, the reason that students choose those alternative environments is that they are safer, more supportive and, in general, have a culture of responsibility, discipline, that kind of thing," says Schaeffer.


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