Personal Finance

When it comes to public vs. private schools, some families may choose based on reopening plans

Key Points
  • As many institutions evaluate reopening plans for the fall, some families will choose the schools that hold in-person classes, regardless of whether they are public or private.
  • At the same time, the cost of an education weighs heavily.
How Covid-19 is changing remote learning
How Covid-19 is changing remote learning

With schools across the country deciding how to reopen in the fall, parents are suddenly faced with decisions about how to best educate their children and which type of school can do it.

That adds a new consideration to the debate between private or public schools.  

With smaller class sizes, on average, private schools could have more flexibility when it comes to adhering to the standards for reopening, according to Myra McGovern, a spokesperson for the National Association of Independent Schools.

And that may attract more families who want to see their children back in class.

"Many people may need their children to be in school so they can work," McGovern said.  

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Amid the coronavirus crisis, "we are hearing from some schools that they have had an influx of inquiries about admissions," she said.

There is enormous pressure to bring students back. However, whether a school can meet the guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may come down to not just where they are located but also the ability to social distance and implement pricey new protocols, which are already straining some cash-strapped schools.

Emily Glickman, the president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, said she is working with a few parents who are in the process of moving their children to private schools from public ones.  

"They do perceive that private schools are in a better position to implement safety measures, whether it's putting in a new ventilation system or doing a better job distancing the students," Glickman said. 

On the flip side, Glickman is also working with several families who are choosing to leave private school, for other reasons.

Children in an elementary school class wear masks and sit as desks spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines during summer school sessions at Happy Day School in Monterey Park, California on July 9.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Akin to what is happening at the college level, some families have decided that remote learning is just not worth the cost.

Overall, the average cost of tuition at private schools across all grades is $26,866 a year, with roughly a quarter of all families receiving financial aid, according to the NAIS.With record unemployment and many parents experiencing a job loss or furlough, families may no longer be able to afford a private-school education.

Amid so much uncertainty surrounding what the upcoming academic year will look like, as well as their own financial standing, enrolling kids in public school for a year — or longer — is an increasingly attractive option for some parents.

Further, choosing a local school during a public-health crisis could mean children won't have to commute or rely on public transportation.

As public schools announce their plans, it will solidify enrollment decisions for families.
Myra McGovern
spokesperson for the National Association of Independent Schools

"The ability to walk to school is highly prized," Glickman said.

And yet, many schools haven't determined whether they will hold classes in person or online, which could be the deciding factor. "In almost every case, planning is still up in the air," Glickman said.

"As public schools announce their plans, it will solidify enrollment decisions for families," McGovern added.

"It still remains to be seen what will happen, but we are hopeful that the influx of inquiries will counterbalance families deciding not to enroll," she said.

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