Summer vacation can be a welcome break from the usual school and activity routines. It’s also a chance for parents to think about how the school year went and consider adjustments for next year. If you feel like your child would flourish in a different learning environment or with some additional support, consider how your options could fit your schedule and budget. These ideas can help you start the conversation.
There are many different reasons you might opt for private school, whether for religious reasons or simply because it seems like a better fit for your child.
Independent schools may have smaller class sizes and lower student-to-teacher ratios. Depending on your state, students may not have to take standardized tests that public school children would.
Grade level and state affects private school tuition. The median tuition nationally is $16,000, just over $14,000 for first-grade students and $19,000 for high school. Higher-cost states like Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire have average tuition over $20,000 and private high school tuition over $30,000.
Tuition is often lower at religious schools, particularly Catholic schools, than at secular private schools. This may be because some religious schools share space with a house of worship and have lower overall costs, or may be able to hire teachers at lower-than-typical salaries (e.g., nuns or priests). Average elementary school tuition at Catholic schools is $4,840 as of 2023.
Some private schools cater specifically to students who have disabilities. Students may have access to more specialized support, educators trained in special education and a chance to learn with peers with similar needs. Some cons can include challenging transitions to standard learning environments, especially if kids don’t get many opportunities to socialize with peers who don’t have special needs.
Private schools may appeal to parents looking for an alternative learning style compared to the classroom formats in most public schools. Montessori schools follow a child-directed model. Waldorf schools emphasize art in teaching methods. Tuition varies by age, location and other factors, but average Montessori tuition is around $12,000-15,000, and Waldorf schools can cost $19,000 or more.
Educating your own child is legal throughout the United States. Homeschooling can let you customize a curriculum to your child’s needs and interests. It also can be done with low overhead if you look for free and low-cost resources and curriculum materials.
Homeschooling means taking on the effort of designing and implementing a curriculum, planning social opportunities for your child and meeting state requirements for documenting and reporting progress. There can also be a high opportunity cost to homeschooling, since you need to be able to dedicate the hours to plan lessons and work with your child, which might mean you’re not able to work fulltime.
You may not be looking for something as drastic as a completely different school for your child. Supplementing your child’s public school education with additional services and resources can help them reach new achievements:
Tutoring: Students who are having a hard time keeping up in certain classes may benefit from tutoring sessions. First, check whether your school or community offers free tutoring programs. You can also look into independent tutoring. Rates vary by age, location and subject. The low end can be $15-25/hour, mid-range prices $30-60/hour, and the higher end could be $80-100/hour.
Special interest classes: Your child may be interested in pursuing more advanced art or music lessons, or exploring an interest like chess that isn’t available at their school.
Talented and gifted programs: Some programs for gifted kids are free, such as schools offering accelerated classes in certain subjects for gifted students. Other options, like certain summer programs, can cost $2,999-6,199 for tuition alone.
Once you’ve identified the right educational environment and resources for your child, the next step is following through with a plan that fits your budget. If you’ve been saving for your child’s education already (or want to plan ahead for the future), these accounts can help cover education expenses.
A 529 savings plan isn’t only for college expenses. You can take up to $10,000 per year as a qualified distribution for K-12 private school tuition. This includes tuition at religious, Montessori and Waldorf schools.
Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) are custodial accounts. They’re easier to set up than trust funds, and they don’t have the same restrictions on how to use the money that a 529 plan does. Both can hold various kinds of financial assets, like cash, mutual funds, stocks or insurance policies, while UTMA accounts can also hold tangible property like jewelry or real estate.
The gifts you put in an UGMA or UTMA are irrevocable, meaning you can’t change the beneficiary, and the beneficiary can use the funds for any expense.
Different accounts can come in handy for different types of education costs. The expenses you’re considering, your long-term plans and your child’s age could all affect what’s the best choice for you.
First, consider what you want to pay for. Say you want to put your child in private school. If they’re in grades K-12, a 529 plan could be a good resource for $10,000 of tuition.
If your kid’s in preschool (remember, only K-12 is eligible with a 529) or tuition is over $10,000, you’ll probably need another plan. Same goes if you’re looking for a tax-advantaged way to pay for tutoring or enrichment programs. In these cases, an UGMA or UTMA may be the answer.
As of 2023, the first $1,250 in gains in UGMA and UTMA accounts is exempt from federal tax, and the next $1,250 is taxed at your child’s tax rate, rather than the parent’s. This can make an UGMA or UTMA a more appealing option than paying directly out of your own investments.
Long-term plans matter. Just because you can take K-12 tuition from a 529 plan doesn’t mean you’ll want to. Instead, it may benefit you to use the tax-advantaged growth as long as possible and reserve those funds for college. As a result, your family might choose to use savings or UGMA funds when your child is young, to avoid messing with the tax-advantaged growth, and to avoid cutting into your kids’ college fund.
Another consideration: Money in an UGMA or UTMA account belongs to your child. When your child comes of age (at 18 or 21 years, depending on the state), they control the money. Before then, an UGMA or UTMA has a custodian—which often means you, the parent. That means you can manage the funds, including spending on expenses that are directly for your child. In other words, you probably couldn’t take UGMA funds to pay for a backyard pool (even if your kid will swim in it), but you could use funds to pay for your child’s tutoring fees.
In order to make sure there’s enough money in the UGMA or UTMA when your child is an adult—so they can use it for things like a car or rent in adulthood—you might prefer to use UGMA funds on your child’s behalf when they’re small, and shift to using another account like a 529 plan as your child nears adulthood.
Whatever your path, you want to provide your child the best learning environment you can to help them grow—and with the right accounts in hand, you’re on your way.
Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.
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