This post was originally just a collection of random thoughts about private schools, a rant if you will. I was sure I would offend many of you who have your kids in private school. Instead of running just a big long rant, my assistant editor Jill said she wanted to turn it in to a Pro/Con post and she volunteered to write the Pro part. So my part will be the Con and hers will be the Pro. Just remember that I dont care what you do with your money as long as you can afford it. You want to blow it on travel,wakeboat gas, private school, or whatever, its your choice so long as you can do it and still put20% toward retirement. All right, here we go.

I often talk about the big rocks in your personal finances. This big rock phrase comes from the famous thought experiment where you try to fit a certain amount of rocks, gravel, and sand into a jar. If you start with the big rocks, everything fits in. If you start with the sand, theres no room for the gravel, much less the big rocks. The point is to pay attention to the big rocks first. This is in opposition to theLatte Factoras made famous byBach, i.e. the idea that if you just stop buying lattes youll be rich eventually. I would advocate that it is far easier to justpay attention to the big rocksand then you can have all the lattes you want. Since we all only have a limited amount of willpower to tell ourselves no, it is far better to use that limited willpower on the big rocks in our financial lives.

So what are the big rocks in your budget? Housing and transportation certainly qualify. So dovacationsand state income taxes. But guess what else belongs in there? Thats right, private school. I mean look at what it costs. In my area, its about $10K per year per kid, and Im told that is really cheap compared to places like theBay Area and D.C. where it might be $30K per year per kid. But whether you have 6 kids in Utah or 2 kids in California, $60K a year in tuition is a huge rock. $60K a year invested at 5% real for 13 years is over a million dollars, $2.4M if you let it continue to compound for another 17 years at that rate. According to surveys of physicians in their 60s, about 57% have anet worth of less than $2 Million.

Okay, heres where our bias comes in. Our kids are all in public schools. We went to public schools. We volunteer in public schools. My wife worked in public schools. Her mother worked in public schools. Her grandparents worked in public schools (and her grandfather was a superintendent.) Nobody in my family has EVER gone to a private high school. We live in an area with excellent public schools. We are big supporters of public schools. In fact, with this most recent election, the only sign we had in our yard was a pro-school bond sign.

That said, one of the big beefs I have with private schools is their tendency to siphon off resources that could go toward the public school system. No matter what you believe, it is pretty hard to argue that public schools are not providing a societal good that benefits all of us. A better-educated citizenry improves the economy, society, and government for all of us.

When the children of the educated, wealthy, and/or moral are removed from public schools in order to get a better education, that leaves those in the public schools worse off. Kids learn not only from their teachers but also from their peers. That goes for scholastic and non-scholastic subjects. Private schools may also siphon off the most talented and dedicated teachers, although I suppose I have no data to support that. Parents that are likely to put their kids in private schools are also those most likely to be very supportive of the school- i.e. volunteer time, donate extra money, ensure their kids are on top of their school work and behavior etc. Removing those kids and their parents from the public school system decreases the societal benefit of the public school system for all of us. Dont get me wrong, private school attending families are paying the same property taxes as everyone else, but theres a lot more to support than just paying your taxes.

I get this question a lot.A family feels like they live in an area where the public schools are lousyand they are trying to decide whether to move to a more expensive area and put their kids in public schools or stay where theyre at and pay for private school tuition. The right answer is usually to move, whether it is just down the street or to another state. The reason boils down to basic math.

When you pay private school tuition, that money is gone. When you buy a more expensive house, the value of the house is likely to keep up with inflation and then come back to you eventually. Plus, the cost of the house is a one-time expense rather than a recurring one.

Consider this scenario: You can live in a $400K house with crummy schools and pay $40K a year in private school tuition or you can live in an $800K house with great public schools. Over the course of 13 years, you will have paid $40K * 13 = $520,000 in tuition. That money is just gone. If you had spent the extra $400K, and the house appreciated at 3%, youd be $187K ahead, instead of $520K behind, a difference of $700K. Now, you have to reduce that by the additional property taxes. Perhaps thats $5-10K a year. And most people arent paying cash for their house, so there would be some additional interest costs and maybe some additional maintenance costs. Perhaps $10-20K a year. And the realtor fees would be higher. But the fact remains that all that added up isnt going to come close to $700K. Youve got to really love your job and the area you live to give up an extra $700K for it.

We know lots of people who put their kids in private school for various reasons. I havent been particularly impressed that their kids are smarter or more well-rounded or more likely to succeed or more moral than those attending good public schools. Nor have I seen any data that supports that contention. You may feel differently, of course, but it seems to me that a great deal of the private school benefit is a status symbol. I also think a lot of people hear that the public schools are bad but never actually get involved or really investigate whether that is really true. I mean, sure, if your public schools really are terrible or unsafe, then I cant blame you for using your discretionary income on a luxury like private school. But at least go find out if they really are terribledont just take your neighbors word for it.

On a related note, I am amazed how our cost blinders go on as soon as we start talking about education. I usually discuss this with regards to acollege education, but it applies just as much to a grade or high school education. The value proposition is particularly acute when the alternative is completely free (at least of an additional cost beyond the required property taxes.)

Go down theUS News and World Report college rank listsome time. Youll see colleges that are ranked the same for their academic merits but have 4-8 times the cost of tuition. Your children need significant guidance to make a wise college choice. They shouldnt be choosing a college because they think the buildings are pretty or their friend from high school is going there. Its a value proposition. What is the price and how good is the education. Sure, the education might be a little better at one college than another, but it likely isnt 8 times as good.

The same rules apply to grade school and high school. Just because the class size might be 20% smaller doesnt mean the education is 20% better. How much is it worth to have your kids learn geometry from someone who shares your religion? Is a 20 point higher average SAT really worth $100K in tuition? Those are the questions to ask yourself. It isnt just about whats better. Its also a value proposition.

I mean, dont you think its amazing to see parents paying private school tuition for their kids when they havent even finished paying for their own education yet? What message are you sending to your kids with that sort of behavior?That living your whole life in debt is normal? Is that really your intent?

We need to get out of this mindset that Id do anything for my kids when anything includes stuff that makes no financial sense at all. Why dont you give them a choice? They can either attend private schools or you can give them $700K in todays money when they turn 40. The right answer for most kids is going to be take the money.

Now you have to know your kids too; some kids need services and experiences only available from a private institution. And we all have discretionary income we can spend any way we like. So if you want to spend your money on private schools, knock yourself out. But do your finances a favor and at least consider the financial implications of your choice before making it.

First day of Kindergarten for Jills youngest.

Over the past 20 years weve tried it all! Weve homeschooled our kids, had them in private school, neighborhood public schools as well as charter schools, all in an effort to provide them the best education for their different needs. Jim and I are neighbors and we live in one of the top school districts in the State of Utah, but still, the schools have often come up short and I have felt compelled at times to seek better educational opportunities for my children.

If Jim had just left this post about private school being a big rock and that you should be very careful about choosing that big rock, I would have edited the post, published it, and left it at that! But, after reading his other thoughts on education I felt that I really needed to address his five main points.

I couldnt agree more. The years we had one of our kids in private school, we were keenly aware of the big rock that it was, and we made significant cuts in other areas of our budget to allow it to make sense financially.

My husband and I chose private school for a time because our local public school couldnt meet our daughters needs. She was reading and doing math well above her grade level. Public schools, no matter how good they are, have limited options for teaching a child that doesnt conform. The best they could offer my daughter was to give her extra worksheets for home. They expected her to play along nicely sounding out P-A-T even though she was readingChronicles of Narniaat home. They also expected her to be patient as others learned to identify numbers while she was experimenting with multiplication at home. How could I sentence her to an education far less than her capabilities? To do so would be a waste of her mind.

When we didnt have the income to justify private school, I homeschooled two of my boys for about four years. Now, THAT was a sacrifice and a labor of love. A teacher at our top-rated elementary school told me that my son was so different from the rest of the class that she didnt have a way to teach him effectively. What is a parent to do in that kind of situation? Well, I wasnt just going to leave him there with little being taught. I bought a curriculum for a few hundred dollars that met his needs and I taught him myself! Every bit of sacrifice of my time and money was worth seeing my kids work to rise to their potential.

I know Jim is well-meaning in his defense of public schools but if a public school isnt giving a child the best learning opportunities, should that child be sacrificed to the public good?  Just because Jim is biased toward government education doesnt inherently make it the moral good or the right fit for every kid in America rich or poor.

Its not that Im against government-run schools. I believe they are a public good and the right fit for many situations. What Im against is people resenting, compelling, shaming, or legislating against others who choose an alternative. Physicians dont seem to like it when well-meaning people say that theyowe a debt to society for putting them through medical school. I dont like it when people say that my debt to society is to sacrifice my childrens education to systems that may not be working for a child.

Jim suggests that private schools siphon off bright kids and families that are needed in the public schools and that those families basically have a moral responsibility to stay in the government system. However, his next argument is that it is a smart financial decision to buy your way out of a crummy school by purchasing an expensive home in a great school district. Using his logic, wouldnt then those great public schools be themselves, siphoning off the brightest kids and families from the crummy public schools that need them most? Wouldnt the greatest moral good be to move INTO a poorly performing public school? Of course not! That would be absurd.

Like Jim, I think moving into a great school district to better your childrens educational situation is a perfectly viable option for a family. Likewise, opting out of the government system is just as viable an option and no less moral of a decision.

Jim hasnt been overly impressed with kids whove attended private schools. My experiences have been different. Weve found the benefits of our educational choices to be outstanding. At the private school our daughter attended, she was taught a rigorous curriculum.  She, along with every student, was assigned to breakout learning groups that matched her academic level. Students were taught how to think on their own, to question assumptions, and to take individual responsibility.

At the charter school my daughter currently attends, the children are the most polite Ive ever been around. They open doors for parents and each other; they say, Yes maam, or No, sir; they are exceptionally kind to each other. They act like this because its part of the curriculum and expected. They are challenged each day in small learning groups that are ability-based allowing each student to learn at the level that best suits them. Expectations are high. I believe these kids act in a way that is noticeably different.

My daughter won a lottery position to attend this charter school and we were able to transfer her from the private school. Hey, Im not stupid; theres no reason to keep paying for private school when the charter accomplishes my main goals. If you arent seeing a significant difference between private school education and what you can find at the public schools, then absolutely stop wasting your money.

Some of you are parents or grandparents that haveEnoughorBeyond Enough. If that is the case, why not look at private schooling if it could give the children you care about more. If you arent in that position of Enough yet, but feel the acute need that your child needs more, then you still have options! You can move into a better performing school district, find special programs within the public schools that can better meet your kids needs, you can homeschool, find a charter school, or sacrifice like crazy to afford a great private school. All are viable options for helping a child reach their potential all without feeling any guilt (as long as you save that 20% for retirement!).

What do you think? What does private high school in your area cost? What financial sacrifices have you made to put your kids in private school? Do you think its worth the cost? Why or why not? Have you considered moving to a better school district? Do you think families have a moral obligation to keep their children in the public schools? Comment below!

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Man, this comment section is going to crash your site, I bet.

I agree with both of you to some extent. I am married to a public school educator and have three kids. These decisions can be really tough. They have both personal and societal impacts.

In the end as a parent it is a value proposition decision in my mind. I completely agree with both of you that if the value isnt truly there, private school is a giant rock that will sink you fast if you arent being smart in the other big three (house, cars, and food). That said, if the public school will not serve your childs needs I see no need to sacrifice the child as Jill pointed out.

From a societal stand point, what you are both saying is true and controversial in a way that you may not realize. Because of the way school districts are drawn (and redrawn), many affluent kids are taken out of public schools that need the money regardless of what you think about private/public education. In the south -where my family lives this has led to a re-segregation of schools that isnt good for anyone. With the generational poverty that exists, lines are drawn for election purposes that results in public schools that are overly affluent and white being separated from impoverished communities that are more diverse. This essentially leads to free-private schools as long as your kid lives in a certain area. Look at your city map and I bet you find the one highway that if someone lives north/south/east/west of the poverty rate sky-rockets. Go look at those schools and tell me they are the same as the ones in the affluent parts on the opposite sides of town.

The argument about just moving makes this problem worse. Its better for the individual family, but not better for society. So, in some ways, I feel like WCIs non-personal finance side of his argument is self-defeating. Yes, you can just move, but it is going to hurt our society when all of the wealthy, high-income earners just move because they can; while the impoverished more diverse community (lets be real: poverty disproportionately impacts our minority friends/family) get left behind. If the societal impact is really what you care about, then this must be addressed. Otherwise, its more of a theoretical concern than an actual one.

Given my familys beliefs and my wife being an educator, we see this every day.

Ive also been wondering lately when you sleep?!?

9:30 to 4:30 every night! Eaterm time zone makes my post times look super early 🙂

Everyone I know went to public school and I have never understood private school value. I have friends who teach at good private schools who went to public and they agree. We have been really happy with public schools for ourselves and kids.

10k a year also sounds like a bargain. Private schools are 50-60k per child per year here and if you dont start in kindergarten in many of them your child is unlikely to ever be admitted off the wait list.

For context, both my wife and I went to public schools for our entire pre-college educations in big metro areas.

The public vs private decision often boils down to what others at your income level in your town are doing. In most medium and large metro areas, there will be at least one wealthy suburb which has the highest home prices, along with the best public schools. If you live in these areas, I think it is a no-brainer to send your kids to public school.

However, in many small towns, all of the physicians send their kids to private schools instead of the local public school. In this scenario, there is a material educational difference between private and public schools. Because real estate in these areas are often significantly lower than large metro areas (which also lowers the property tax base for the public schools), the physicians can afford to send their kids to private school. The small towns often pay physicians more than the average doctor, and the physicians are often the highest paid people in these communities, unlike in New York or San Francisco, where some doctors may feel like they only have an average income.

As in athletics, to be the best you have to train with the best. If all of the smart students with wealthy parents in your small town are going to private school, your child will benefit from going to that same private school, and youll probably be able to afford it.

Looking forward to reading other physicians thoughts on this important, controversial topic.

Controversial is right. 84 comments already and none of them mine.

I grew up a town of around 70,000 people in Canada , where there were no private schools. Although interestingly, there was one public high school which was more ghetto, downtown and Greaser, while the other one that was zoned somewhat to the more affluent west neighborhoods. I cant imagine how discrepant public versus private schools might be bigger metropolises, or in the United States for example. However, to the effect that to be the best, you have to train with the best, I think there is much to be said about being surrounded by a well represented demographic, and to grow up with different kinds of people, learning from all these different viewpoints from different social stratas, while having strong family and parental support to guide a child along the way with in the current educational system. For example, when it show and tell your parents day, we had a policeman, restaurant waiter, a nurse, etc not just doctors and lawyers. I saw how a classmate who had congenital hydrocephalus and mental retardation get bullied because he was different, and to this day I think of my place in that classmates life. I think this is very much a part of a childs education in addition to the academics. A lack of this exposure may be part of the reason why society is becoming so polarized, and as physicians treating patients from all spectrums of the population, I can only see this knowledge and understanding as being beneficial.

I am of strong belief that it is the parents will make the biggest impact in a childs success in life. For me, I would prefer to work less and be play a bigger role in my childrens education rather than paying the extra for private school. But in cases where that might not be an option, and if the public schools were truly deplorable, Id have a tough time with this decision too!

I observe many physicians sending their kids to the local private school who are not funding their retirements. The local private school tuition is more than the State University.

I have chosen the private school option for my daughter because the school I put her in consistently is ranked near the top in my state and the local public chool she would have been going to has come in below the median (I live in a rural area).

I do like your advice Jim about if had a choice of picking a more expensive home in a better school district that in the long run it would be worth it. Unfortunately that situation was not applicable to me as there is no way I can find an equivalen property I have (bought it because I have 2 natural waterfalls about 200 ft from the back of my house (50 ft and 8 ft) in a better school district (have to play to the whims of mother nature).

So my choice would be to move to a better public school district and buy a likely more expensive home than the one I bought and live in the city (not my cup of tea) or pay tuition for private school.

For me it was a no brainer and luckily by the time private school had started (grade 6 here) I could easily cash flow it with just my passive income (which is actually more than 2x private tuition). I get your point that yes if Iinvested this money instead I could have even made more, but there is a point where you say you have enough (or will have enough by the time I FIRE)

I do not believe in your argument of for the benefit of society one should put a student in public school regardless. I went through the system both ways growing up. I was way ahead of my class (grew up in Lousiana which is not known for great schools) and even was offered to skip 2 grades because of it (my dad didnt want me to because he wanted me to be with my same age friends). I learned bad habits (I never studied at all (didnt do anything except required homework and took tests without reviewing anything) and made straight As. Was valedictorian of 8th grade still. When my dad passed away, my mom moved to California and put me in a high ranking private school and for the first time I was with kids with similar brainpower and dropped from 1 to probably 20 or so in a class of 120. It was an eye opener and prepared me for college and med school because I finally had to compete. My daughters class size is 24 and they split it into groups of 12 which really also gives individual attention (far less easy to goof off if you are 1 of 12).

Private school is a big rock but if in the grand scheme of things it allows you to prepare for college better I think it is worth it (this private school is like a mini college with campus etc.)

I do appreciate that you think that learning geometry next to someone from your religion is not important and I agree with you. But as an Orthodox Jew, there is more to private orthodox Jewish school. For us, it gives you the religious education that you cant replicate in an after school problem. Socially too, the kids are going to school with others who follow the same religious laws. If they were at public school, they would miss out on parties on Saturdays and would not be able to go out to eat with the other kids who dont keep kosher. Therefore most of us sacrifice to put our kids in these specific private schools. However, it is a huge rock and is very tough, but it is unavoidable in a way.

Even for those of us Jews who are not orthodox but live in places with few Jews, these are strong arguments to make for Jewish day school (although the costs are pretty high). I assume Dr Dahle sends his children to public schools where they share the majority religion/identity of Utah. It feels quite different when you are the only one of a particular religion in your class and your religious identity is not yet formed.

Yes for my kids, no for me. I was often the only one of a particular religion in my classes/teams/groups of friends. Didnt matter; my parents couldnt have afforded to send us to a private school if they had wanted to. It simply wasnt an option, like for most of the folks I grew up with.

Glad to see other Orthodox Jews here. For us, and pretty much everyone in our community regardless of income, private schools for our kids is non-negotiable. It is an essential part of educating our children in our faith and like Josh mentioned, there is no other way to replicate the dual curriculum and extensive Jewish studies that a private religious school provides. (Along with a myriad of other lifestyle benefits, such as vacations during our holidays, a cafeteria that accommodates our dietary restrictions etc.) Almost every Orthodox Jew I know sends their kids to private schools, which depending on where you live ranges from $10-25k a year per child. This includes people who make $20,000 a year all the way to the millionaires. The schools give breaks to the lower income households (heavily fundraising to cover the costs) and the truly rich are able to afford it. It is the middle/upper classes that get really stuck under this big rock as we are expected to pay the full amount for all kids (and we have pretty large families). Id love to see more doctor budgets that include private school as a non-negotiable, because thats the reality for us.

Its like any budget- you put in the big rocks first and then when you run out of money, you quit putting rocks in the jar. Most doc families can have anything they want, but not everything. Want to put a few kids in $25K/year school? Thats probably fine. You just cant live in a McMansion, vacation in Europe, drive his and her Teslas, and retire at 55 too.

While Im not Jewish, I think this is an outstanding point that can apply to anyone has a minority religious viewpoint in their particular community. Even though religion is supposed to be kept out of public schools, it is always going to be an indirect issue and, in some cases, a direct issue. Josh comments to indirect exclusion, but it can be much worse in some parts of the country. Some schools where I live would be considered downright evangelical elsewhere. I attended a local public school graduation last year and the amount of Christian prayer was staggering. One of the things I value about my sons private school is that he has the opportunity to mingle with Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. The demographics of public vs. private are quite different in the rural South where many of the rich doctors are immigrants.

I agree. I think those arguing that private schools are more white or more diverse are both right, for their particular areas. In our area the church schools are predominantly white or black depending on the color of the church. (Sunday at 11 a. M. In the South: the most segregated hour of all.) Many of the white church schools started out as Jim Crow academies when Public Schools were forcibly integrated. The black church schools, and I dont know of too many because black churches have a lot less money here, probably are like Charter Schools opened to help parents get their kids out of bad Public Schools.

Whereas our actual distinguished private Academy, though started as a Jim Crow Academy, is not Church affiliated. And now it is no longer segregated or racist, so as Arthur notes the many foreign doctors in town send their kids there making it the most International School in town. And the rich parents of the other students are not afra