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  • May 30 2018

How to Tell If You Can Afford Private School

Paying full-price for K–12 private school tuition and fees might not be your only option.

Parents choose private schools for a lot of reasons. Maybe their local public school is not meeting their needs. Maybe they want a religious education for their child. Maybe they prefer a different instructional approach for their child.

Does one of these describe your situation? Maybe sending your child to private school is the right choice.

I know, I know, I know what you’re going to say. “Private school is too expensive.” But is it?  Let’s walk through a couple of questions and see if private school might be a viable option for your family.

 

What are the schools in your area?

There may be more private schools in your area than you know. According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, 92 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a private school. In some states, like California, 95 percent of residents live within 5 miles of a private school. It’s 95 percent in Massachusetts, 96 percent in New Jersey, and 90 percent in Florida.

To find a school, you can use a tool like Great Schools. Just type in your ZIP Code and refine the search to only look for private schools, and a curated list (along with reviews from other parents!) will appear. When I typed in my ZIP Code (in South Kansas City, Missouri) a whopping 65 private schools popped up within five miles.

 

FIND PRIVATE SCHOOLS IN MY AREA

 

How much does tuition cost at the school you like best?

There is a persistent misconception about how much private school actually costs. Maybe folks have watched Dead Poets Society or Gossip Girl too many times and think that all private schools are elite institutions that only the wealthiest Americans can afford. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there are lots of lower-cost private schools spread all across the country.

As part of our research program here at EdChoice, we survey private schools in selected states, and one of the questions that we ask is how much it costs for students to attend the school. In Texas, the median combined tuition and fees of private schools is $6,000 (meaning that 50 percent of schools cost less than that!). In South Carolina, its $5,210. In Nebraska, it’s only $2,000. Clearly, there are lots of lower cost options out there.

 

What financial aid is available?

Just looking at tuition and fees might overstate the actual cost for a child to attend a private school.  Schools offer financial aid for students, primarily driven by parental income.

The National Association of Independent Schools has a great resource on seeking financial aid for private education. NAIS represents private schools that are more expensive than average, but their advice works across the board. Financial aid ranges from grants for families that can’t afford full sticker price to merit-based scholarships to tuition payment plans and all things in between. Their key bit of advice is worth taking to heart: Apply, apply, apply. The worst a school can do is tell you is no.

 

Do you live in a state with a private school choice program, and do you qualify?

In addition to school-based financial aid, numerous states offer support for children who want to attend private schools. This takes one of four forms:

  1. Private school vouchers: Some states and Washington, D.C., have programs where funds that a public district school would have spent on your child had they attended are instead given to you, the parent, in the form of a voucher to pay partial or full tuition for your child’s education in a private school. State departments of education or other state government entities are often responsible for running these programs.
  2. Tuition tax-credit scholarship programs: Some states allow taxpaying citizens to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide K–12 private school scholarships. Parents like you work with those independent nonprofit organizations to secure a scholarship for your child.
  3. Education savings accounts (ESAs): A growing number of states deposit public funds into government-authorized savings accounts for parents to use on various educational expenses. Those funds—often distributed to families via debit card—can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses and other approved customized learning services and materials.
  4. Tax credits and deductions: A few states allow parents to receive tax credits or deductions for approved educational expenses you have already paid for out-of-pocket, including private school tuition.

Check out the list below to find out if your state falls into one of these categories.

Note: The eligibility criteria for each of these programs vary. Some are universal, meaning they are open to all K–12 students. Some are solely for students with special needs. Some are only for children zoned to attend schools that fail to meet state testing benchmarks. Others have household income limits.

The lawmakers who make these programs don’t always make eligibility requirements for these programs easy to understand, but our team at EdChoice has created easy to follow eligibility quizzes for all of the private school choice programs in America. Be sure to click through to them below to test whether your family would qualify.

 

School Choice Programs in Alabama

Alabama has two private school choice programs, a tax-credit scholarship and a refundable tax credit.

Education Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value for Alabama’s Education Scholarship Program is around $5,400.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Accountability Act of 2013 Parent-Taxpayer Refundable Tax Credits

This program is basically a rebate. It allows families who already footed the bill for private school tuition to get a refund for a portion of that cost when they file their taxes. The average value of Alabama’s refundable tax credit is around $2,400.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

School Choice in Alaska

Alaska does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice Programs in Arizona

Arizona has five school choice programs, one ESA and four tax-credit scholarships.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

This program is an education savings account. The average projected value of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program is $12,400. Keep in mind a higher percentage of students using this program are students with special needs, who typically get more funding than students without special needs, so that might make the average higher than what a child without special needs might receive.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Original Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value for Arizona’s Original tax-credit scholarship program is about $1,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Low-Income Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value for Arizona’s Low-Income tax-credit scholarship program is about $1,900.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

“Switcher” Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value for Arizona’s “Switcher” scholarship program is about $1,360.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Lexie’s Law for Disabled and Displaced Students Tax Credit Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value for Arizona’s Lexie’s Law scholarship program is about $4,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

School Choice Programs in Arkansas

Arkansas has one school voucher program.

Succeed Scholarship Program

The average voucher value for Arkansas’s Succeed Scholarship Program is around $6,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

School Choice in California

California does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Colorado

Colorado does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Connecticut

Connecticut does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Delaware

Delaware does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice Programs in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)

Washington, D.C., has one school voucher program.

Opportunity Scholarship Program

The average voucher value for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is about $9,600.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice Programs in Florida

Florida has four school choice programs, one ESA, one voucher and two tax-credit scholarships.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program is about $6,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Gardiner Scholarship Program

This program is an education savings account for students with special needs. The average account value for Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship Program is about $10,300.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

The average voucher value for Florida’s McKay scholarship program is $7,300.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Hope Scholarship Program

This program is for students who have been victims of bullying in their public schools. The program does not launch until the 2018–19 school year, and it allows kids to transfer not just to private schools, but also public schools outside of their district. The maximum scholarship value for Florida’s Hope Scholarship Program is $6,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice Programs in Georgia

Georgia has two school choice programs, a voucher and a tax-credit scholarship.

Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program

The average voucher value for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program is about $5,600.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit

The average scholarship value for Georgia’s Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit is about $3,800.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

School Choice in Hawaii

Hawaii does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Idaho

Idaho does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice Programs in Illinois

Illinois has two school choice programs, a tax-credit scholarship and an individual tax credit.

Invest in Kids Program

The maximum scholarship value for the Illinois Invest in Kids Program is $12,973.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Tax Credits for Educational Expenses

The average value of Illinois’s educational expenses tax credit is about $260.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice Programs in Indiana

Indiana has three school choice programs, one voucher, one tax-credit scholarship and one tax deduction.

Choice Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program is about $4,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

School Scholarship Tax Credit

The average scholarship value of Indiana’s School Scholarship Tax Credit program is about $2,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Private School/Homeschool Deduction

The average value of Indiana’s Private School/Homeschool Deduction is about $1,800.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice Programs in Iowa

Iowa has two school choice programs, a tax-credit scholarship and an individual tax credit.

School Tuition Organization Tax Credit

The average scholarship value for this program is about $1,600.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit

The average credit amount for this program is about $120.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice Programs in Kansas

Kansas has one school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship.

Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program

The average scholarship value of Kansas’s Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program is about $2,300.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Kentucky

Kentucky does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice Programs in Louisiana

Louisiana has four school choice programs, two vouchers, one tax-credit scholarship and one individual tax deduction.

Louisiana Scholarship Program

The average voucher value for the Louisiana Scholarship Program is about $5,900.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

School Choice Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities

The average voucher value for Louisiana’s School Choice Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities is about $2,300.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Tuition Donation Credit Program

The average scholarship value for Louisiana’s Tuition Donation Credit Program is about $4,100.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Elementary and Secondary School Tuition Deduction

The average value of Louisiana’s Elementary and Secondary School Tuition Deduction program is about $4,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Maine

Maine has one school choice program: town tuitioning, which is like a voucher.

Town Tuitioning Program

The maximum voucher value for Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program is $8,771 for grades K–8 and $10,887 for grades 9–12.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice Programs in Maryland

Maryland has one school choice program, a voucher.

Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program

The average voucher value for Maryland’s BOOST program is about $2,300.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Massachusetts

Massachusetts does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Michigan

Michigan does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Minnesota

Minnesota has two school choice programs, a tax credit and a tax deduction.

K–12 Education Credit

The average value of Minnesota’s K–12 Education Credit is about $250.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Education Deduction

The average value of Minnesota’s Education Deduction is about $1,150.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Mississippi

Mississippi has three school choice programs, two vouchers and one ESA.

Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia Program

The average voucher value of Mississippi’s dyslexia scholarship program is about $5,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program

The average value for Mississippi’s ESA—the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program—is about $6,500.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program

Because the other programs above are more popular and more empowering for families of students with disabilities, this program has no participants currently. The maximum voucher value for Mississippi’s Nate Rogers scholarship program is equal to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program base student cost, i.e., the funding amount provided by the state to public schools.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Missouri

Missouri does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Montana

Montana has one school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship.

Tax Credits for Contributions to Student Scholarship Organizations

The average value of Montana’s tax-credit scholarship program is about $500.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Nebraska

Nebraska does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Nevada

Nevada has two school choice programs, one tax-credit scholarship and one ESA.

Educational Choice Scholarship Program

The projected average scholarship value of Nevada’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program is about $4,500.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Education Savings Accounts

Unfortunately, this program is not yet operational. State lawmakers have yet to secure a funding stream for it, though thousands of parents have applied. The average base account value for Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts would be about $5,100.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has two school choice programs, one voucher and one tax-credit scholarship.

Education Tax Credit Program

The average scholarship value for New Hampshire’s Education Tax Credit Program is $2,150.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Town Tuitioning Program

When students are tuitioned at public schools, the sending town pays the receiving school district or private school an amount equal to the receiving school’s expenses of operation, as estimated by the state board of education the preceding year. That figure is calculated separately for elementary, junior high and high schools. Operation costs do not include the transportation of “tuitioning” students.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in New Jersey

New Jersey does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in New Mexico

New Mexico does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in New York

New York does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in North Carolina

North Carolina has three school choice programs, two vouchers and one ESA.

Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities

The average voucher value of North Carolina’s Special Education Scholarship Grants is about $6,500.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Opportunity Scholarships

The projected average voucher value for North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarships is about $4,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Personal Education Savings Accounts

The maximum value for North Carolina’s Personal Education Savings Accounts is $9,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in North Dakota

North Dakota does not have a private school choice program.

School Choice in Ohio

Ohio has five school choice programs, all vouchers.

Cleveland Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Cleveland’s Scholarship Program is about $4,600.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Autism Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Ohio’s Autism Scholarship Program is about $22,750.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Educational Choice Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program, often called the “EdChoice” scholarship, is about $4,250.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Ohio’s Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program is about $9,800.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Income-Based Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Ohio’s Income-Based Scholarship Program is about $4,000.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has two school choice programs, one voucher and one tax-credit scholarship.

Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

The projected average voucher value of Oklahoma’s Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships is about $6,200.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships

The average value of Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships is about $1,800.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Oregon

Oregon does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has two school choice programs, both tax-credit scholarships.

Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program

The average value of Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program is about $2,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program

The average scholarship value of Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program is about $1,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has one school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship.

Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship Organizations

The average scholarship value of Rhode Island’s tax-credit scholarship program is about $3,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in South Carolina

South Carolina has two school choice programs, one tax-credit scholarship and one individual tax credit.

Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children

The average scholarship value of South Carolina’s Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children is about $4,800.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Refundable Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children

South Carolina’s Refundable Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children program is basically a rebate. It allows parents who have already paid for private school out of their own pockets a tax credit for a maximum of $11,000 per student for educational expenses.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in South Dakota

South Dakota has one school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship.

Partners in Education Tax Credit Program

The average scholarship value of South Dakota’s Partners in Education Tax Credit Program is about $750.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Tennessee

Tennessee has one school choice program, an ESA.

Individualized Education Account Program

The average value of Tennesee’s Individualized Education Accounts is about $6,700.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Texas

Texas does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Utah

Utah has one school choice program, a voucher.

Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Utah’s Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program is about $5,900.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Vermont

Vermont has one school choice program: town tuitioning, which is like a voucher.

Town Tuitioning Program

The average voucher value of Vermont’s Town Tuitioning Program is about $13,150.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Virginia

Virginia has one school choice program, a tax-credit scholarship.

Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program

The average scholarship value of Virginia’s Education Improvement program is about $3,100.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Washington

Washington does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in West Virginia

West Virginia does not have a private school choice program.

 

School Choice in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has five school choice programs, four vouchers and one tax deduction.

Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

The average voucher value for Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program is about $7,500.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Parental Private School Choice Program (Racine)

The average voucher value of Racine, Wisconsin’s Parental School Choice Program is about $7,450.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Parental Choice Program (Statewide)

The average voucher value for Wisconsin’s statewide Parental Choice Program is about $7,500.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

Special Needs Scholarship Program

The average voucher value of Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program is about $12,100.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

 

K–12 Private School Tuition Deduction

The average tax deduction value of Wisconsin’s K–12 Private School Tuition Deduction program is about $4,900.

FIND OUT IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE

School Choice in Wyoming

Wyoming does not have a private school choice program.

 

Can you afford it if you have no other choice but to pay private tuition out of pocket?

In our perfect world, you’d be able to access funding the state sets aside for your child’s K-12 education and apply those funds to whatever schooling type is the best fit for your child—public, magnet, charter, private, home or otherwise—but we still have work to do to achieve that goal.

If your only option is to pay out of pocket for your child’s private education, you should determine whether you can afford it. Some figures to consider: the tuition and fees rate at your desired private school, how much you earn, how much you spend, how much you have saved and could save, any gifts from family or friends and your other financial goals.

 

Is the investment worth it?

You can’t put a price tag on all facets of an education. If you’re a religious person who wants to bring up your children in your beliefs and values, its tough to account for that in monetary terms. Having students in a safe environment where they feel loved, appreciated and respected doesn’t show up in easily measured metrics either. That said, a solid K–12 education has long-term repercussions for a young person’s life.

In the short term, a strong high school career can set students up for more financial support in college, the cost of which seems to be rising unavoidably. In the longer term, students who have received a better education make more money, are healthier, are less likely to commit crimes and experience a host of other positive outcomes. If you think a private school is a better fit, you should think about the long-term potential benefits.

 

Tying it All Together

There are lots and lots of options to help parents pay for a private K–12 education for their children.  Some come from schools themselves, either in schools working to keep tuition and fees as low as possible or offering financial aid directly. Some come from states, which are increasingly deciding to help families finance a private education for their children. We know families overwhelmingly prefer private education to public schools or other options. We also know that far more families in America can afford private education than they think, and we hope you’ll explore all of the options out there as you seek the right fit for your child in elementary school, middle school and high school.

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