Tuition at Private Schools Is Worse Than Paying Taxes

Janelle Harris

School tuition

When Tween Girl Supreme started bringing home lackluster grades last year, I sat her down with a calculator and a cold, hard reality check.

“Add this up,” I said. “I pay [insert ridiculous amount of money here] for your tuition, not including uniforms, activities, field trips, and incidentals.” I gave her the comparative numbers for things we need, like rent and groceries. Then I told her to throw a few desirables in there, like how much more we could go to Dave & Buster's or shoe shopping. That drove the point home, though she suggested we dump private school in favor of the latter. She was roundly overruled.

Still, I’m uncertain if I’m getting out what I’m investing in time, travel miles, and tuition. It looks like I’ll never have a break from paying for this child to learn — she’ll go straight from Catholic high school to college — but I'm wondering if private school is even worth the money?

Our education journey has been more trial-and-error than triumphant, and the school she’s at now is the end result of a long search for stability and comfort. When The Girl started school, we were living out in the sticks in a super rural, super country, super rednecky part of Pennsylvania. I had gone to high school there, experienced the delicious wonderment of being one of six black kids in a sea of 1,600 students.

I knew if I had had a kid, chances were pretty good that the same guys and girls who had called me all kinds of porch monkeys and nigger wenches were having little baby bigots and passing their racial hang-ups on to a new generation who would be sitting right next to my daughter. Pass.

Plus, the public schools in our area wanted me to wait until the next year to register Little Miss Thang, when she would be five. But she was ready for school at four and I didn’t see the point of spending another year playing headmistress at home when she could be in somebody’s classroom.

So I scouted out a school in Baltimore, about an hour drive from our house, two hours with traffic, and fell in love with a private Christian school there. Smack dab in the middle of the ‘hood, yes. Long distance from home, yes. But the curriculum was off the hook. By mid-year everybody, including my little pea pod, was doing triple-digit addition. I was sold on private school.

But after three years and continual ramp-ups in tuition prices, I couldn’t afford to keep sending Skylar there. They had a deficit to make up and rather than figure out other ways to supplement the income, they passed on crazy increases to parents to defray their dwindling bottom line. I was a single mama just barely out of college myself and being a one-woman ATM for every itty bitty fee or charge they could dream up got too pricey. So I pulled her out, moved to DC, and tried a new public charter school.

That right there was my worst decision ever when it came to my child’s education. We fled after two years.

Now my baby-but-big-girl is in Catholic school and I’m still not satisfied. I’m certainly not one of these obsessive stage moms who cracks the whip of perfection over a crowd of trembling administrators and teachers. But if I’m paying a prince’s ransom in tuition every year, I do expect the school to step their game up. I want my child to be challenged and competitive with other kids in the city by the time she merges into high school. And right now, despite all of the money they’ve demanded and I’ve grudgingly shelled out, I’m concerned that she won’t be.

Private, public, parochial, I don’t care — all of it is disappointing to me nowadays. Shouldn’t our kids be learning more than we did at their age? I’m gonna go on ahead and embrace my craziness to answer my own question: they darn sure should.

Sure, I could pull her out of this school in her last year before high school and try my luck at another institution and pray for the best. But from what I’m seeing, the advantages that are supposed to come with private school education are kind of in the wind. And that’s scary, since it’s always been a better alternative to touch-and-go public schooling.

Is paying for private school all that it’s cracked up to be?  

Image via Images_of_Money/Flickr

Read More