If you have children, a huge driver of where you choose to live depends on where your little ones will go to school. If you live in San Francisco, you can roll the dice on public schools or join the arduous process of getting into private school. If you have moved out of the city to avoid paying for private schools, you learn that public education is not entirely free or equal among schools. Even if you live in a great public school district, private school may end up being the appropriate place for your child.

So, what can you expect to pay for education these days?

How much does Private School cost? When you look at private school tuition, you see how inflation can have a significant impact on the cost of education. For parochial schools, primary school tuition is approximately $12,000-13,000 per year with tuition increasing to $18,000 for secondary levels. For two children (assume one child starting kindergarten in 2016, and the other in three years), the total cost of kindergarten through high school is $588,000[1].

High-end private schools like Town, Marin Primary, Mark Day, etc. start at around $30,000 and creep up to $42,000 per year. For two children, this equates to $1.29 million for kindergarten through 12th grade.

These figures do not include annual donations to the school or involvement in fundraising efforts.

From a financial perspective, it is more financially sound to take that money and buy a house in a great public school district; however, there are three main factors that contribute to choosing private over public.

Why Private over Public?  The first reason for private school is that your child would thrive more in a specific learning environment or philosophy. Think Waldorf, Montessori or religious. Class size is usually a big factor as well. Twenty-three kids per class may be too overwhelming. Second, you have the financial resources to invest in private education. Private school is a huge financial commitment. And third, parents who themselves attended private school may see a qualitative benefit from a closer social and alumni network as well as less “teaching to the test”.

What is the true cost of public education? In affluent areas, most public school arts, technology, physical education and music are funded through donations to public school foundations like Kiddo and Kik. Annual donation requests range from $1,000 to $1,800 per student. While these are not mandatory, most families feel obliged to participate. In addition, each school has its own PTA that request separate donations. These requests tend to be more modest but are roughly $300 per student per year. Thus, for two children the annual cost of public school could be $4,200 per year.

How much does it cost to supplement public school education?  Is going to school seven hours a day enough these days? It does not appear to be when you see all the after school enrichment classes and tutoring store fronts.  After-school classes can range dramatically from $200 per semester (usually three sessions per year) to $2,400 per year for language immersion.

Dance and sports activities range as well and can add $600-900+ to your annual spend on education.

Tutoring is another expense and depends on how much your child needs help. For example, Mathnasium is ~$400 per month (x 9 months = $3,600).

Given the rat-race children face today to hopefully, someday, be impressive enough to get into college and find a job, most families pay for two after-school activities per child. The average annual cost to educate your child in public school is approximately $5,700 or $11,400 for two children. Over thirteen years of education, the total cost of sending two children to PUBLIC school is ~$212,000.

My children go to public school, and my husband and I went to public school. I spent two years at boarding school in high school and know the positive impact those years had on my college career and professional life. While we are very happy with our local public school, it seems like every parent’s job to stress about middle school and high school. Images of Lord of the Flies come to mind. For this year, I am not going to think about my daughter heading off to middle school two years from now. I am going to focus on now and what works for my children.


[1] Assume 5% tuition inflation per year.