Public School vs Private School Which Is the Best Option in a Recession

By Meghan Vivo

The recession has taken a toll on both public schools and private schools, but in very different ways. Public schools have taken a hit from lack of funding, leading many parents to question the quality and value of the education their child is receiving. Private schools have generally maintained a certain standard of excellence, but are struggling to attract families whose own finances have taken a hit.

So which is the best option in a recession: public or private?

Public Schools in Crisis

A struggling economy has translated into lost jobs and foreclosed homes for many families. Because income and property taxes are a significant source of funding for schools, public schools all over the country are facing million-dollar budget deficits, resulting in teacher layoffs, cuts to art, music, and athletic programs, increased class sizes, and reduced access to books, supplies, and the latest technologies. Some states, like California, have even considered shortening the school year or trimming the school week from five days to four.

“They are caught in a bind,” Professor Richard Green of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh told Reuters for a Jan. 15, 2009 article. “State and local tax revenues are way down because of the housing collapse, and demand for state and local funding is up for the same reason.”

In addition to decreased tax revenues, public schools aren’t receiving adequate support from state governments, many of which are struggling with their own budget crises. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan think-tank, 43 states are on track for budget gaps, with an estimated total shortfall exceeding $100 billion.

The Impact on Private Boarding Schools

The recession has also impacted some private boarding schools, which tend to be more costly than public school and other educational alternatives. Some middle-class parents who once found ways to afford the superior education and enrichment opportunities offered by private boarding schools are now looking to public schools as more affordable options.

But is public school the best option? While some families might view private school as a luxury item, others consider it a necessity. Despite having fewer resources, many families continue to afford private boarding schools by cutting back in areas other than their child’s education. Some parents have downsized their automobiles, homes, and vacations while others have taken out loans or looked to grandparents or other family members for help. These families fight to continue providing the best education and opportunities for their child despite the difficult economic situation and sacrifice of affording private school.

Is Private School Worth the Investment?

Although it depends which private school you choose, many parents feel that boarding schools provide superior academics, more individualized attention, and more growth opportunities. This is particularly true for parents of teens that are struggling with learning disabilities or emotional or behavioral issues, who may be falling behind or failing out of public school and wreaking havoc at home. For these families, a therapeutic boarding school is more than an excellent opportunity for their child – it is one of the few interventions available that can help their family reconnect and teach teens important life skills while getting back on track in school.

Ultimately, the choice between public and private school comes down to the needs, priorities, and resources of each family. But if you want the best, time, experience, and research show that when weighing your options, parents must consider the benefits of private boarding schools:

Smaller Class Sizes – Smaller class sizes and more personalized attention are some of the most oft-cited reasons parents send their child to private boarding school – and for good reason. With one-on-one attention and carefully tailored individual learning plans, teens at therapeutic boarding schools are able to catch up in school more quickly and even get ahead. Equally important, they learn to enjoy school and explore a range of subjects that interest them – all opportunities that may not exist at your average public school.

Invested Teachers – Smaller class sizes also make happier teachers. Instructors at private boarding schools tend to be passionate about their work, have more freedom to teach the subjects that interest them, and waste less time in the classroom managing unruly behavior. Private school teachers know how to get teens invested in their education and specialize in making learning an active, fun process.

More Resources and Opportunities – Private schools aren’t subject to a struggling economy in the same way public schools are. While public schools are being forced to cut elective programs, private boarding schools continue to offer a full spectrum of enriching activities, from sports, equine programs, and adventure activities like rock climbing and white water rafting to trips abroad and a complete fine arts curriculum.

For example, New Leaf Academy in North Carolina is a private boarding school for girls that is known for its impressive and always expanding list of extracurricular activities, including all varieties of team and individual sports, a minibike program, an equine therapy program, yoga, dance, music, and more.

Private schools also have greater access to new computers, technologies, and the latest learning tools. This can be particularly important for teens with learning disabilities and related challenges like ADHD, nonverbal learning disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Therapeutic boarding schools like Stone Mountain School in North Carolina specialize in working with teenage boys with learning disabilities, using the most modern programs supported by the latest research including special reading software, equine therapy, and language instruction taught using the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Diverse Friendships – Students in private boarding schools develop close, sometimes lifelong friendships with young people from different places and backgrounds. Living and attending school together, students develop close bonds and learn valuable lessons about living away from home, getting along with roommates, and taking care of themselves and their belongings. The staff at most therapeutic boarding schools go to great lengths to create a positive, supportive, and nurturing atmosphere where teens feel good about themselves and their accomplishments and strive to become leaders.

Focus on the Family – Therapeutic boarding schools also offer greater opportunities for parental involvement. Parents have more say in their child’s education and are encouraged to participate in family therapy, attend family workshops, and even join an equine therapy session or adventure trip with their child. Because every adolescent issue is also a family issue, the professional staff at therapeutic boarding schools places particular emphasis on introducing new skills and strategies to the entire family system to improve functioning at home.

College and Career Guidance – Most therapeutic boarding schools offer comprehensive college and career guidance, ranging from help with researching schools and completing college applications to choosing courses and activities that further a teen’s chances of getting into their college of choice. Many private schools have impressive college admissions records. For example, at Oakley School, a co-ed college preparatory therapeutic boarding high school for teens in Utah, 100% of the seniors that applied to a four-year college last year were accepted to one of their choice schools. Oakley grads were accepted into colleges like Northwestern University, Fordham University, University of Colorado, Penn State, and many more.

There’s no question that private boarding school requires some sacrifice – but if you ask the parents of a child who attended one, you’re likely to find that it is a sacrifice worth making. Private schools promote social and emotional competence as well as academic success, nurturing students who are self-assured and well-prepared for the future. Even in tough times, a solid education continues to be one of most sound investments a parent can make in their child’s future.