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Public versus Private Elementary School - indecision with decisions due pronto

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  • Public versus Private Elementary School - indecision with decisions due pronto

    Crazy amount of indecision in my household tonight with the decisions due tomorrow so I'm looking for any last minute advice.

    We live in SF bay, which uses a lottery system for public schools.  We received our neighborhood school which is ranked 7/10 on (if you look at break down by race, the school is 10/10 for test scores for most races but very low for some races and I think that is what pushes it down), and the general impression in the area is that it is a great school.  We (fortunately and unfortunately) were accepted to two top private schools but at the cost of about $35k a year.  This is for kindergarten through 8th, and will likely increase each year.  We have two kids and the second one is two so she is about 3 years away from starting.  In addition to the $35k a year, we would have to pay for after school care.

    Our current combined household income is about $450k, guaranteed to increase to $500k a year over the next 2 years.

    We do not own a home as we are recently out of training and wanted to make sure we liked the jobs, but are looking and a starter home (1500 sq ft, 3 bed) is around $1.5-1.8.  We currently max out 403b x 2, 457, employer fills the rest of my 403b, and some after tax mega backdoor roth. Currently saving about $90k a year.  Student loans are down to $6k and will be gone in 2 months.

    Are we crazy for considering sending our kiddo to private school? I am leaning towards public school due to cost, but I feel like if I don't send her to private school I won't be giving her the best I can.  I feel like it would be very tight with not a lot of money left over for enrichment activities and vacations if we do this.  Our gut decision is to go public based upon:

    1) finances
    2) not fitting in with the very wealthy families at the school
    3) not being able to provide the enrichment activities I think are important (sports, music, vacations, etc...)

    What are everyone's thoughts?

  • #2
    So if both kids go private, you're paying 70k/yr plus after school care plus extracurricular plus the expenses associated with fancy pants rich friends?  I'm gonna need a moment to process that.

    For that kind of money, I wonder if you could just pile it into an index fund and they could just start living off the interest at age 18.

    We "argue" about this issue in my house for a fraction of the pricetag.  We are in a fancy elementary school but due to go to a less fancy middle school.  I'll spare you the debate that we go through because it is just ludicrous.  Barring true safety concerns, it doesn't matter where your kids go to school--they won the lottery by having you as parents.  The Freakonomics guys talk about this, I can't remember which book.

    Go to public school!


    • #3
      Yes. I think it's nuts to send your kid to private school when the local public school is 7/10, 10/10. Our private schools cost 1/3 yours and our kids are in public schools. Our elementary school usually has top 5 test scores in the state. How much better can private possibly be? And at $35K? Do they get an MD when they graduate or something?
      Helping those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street since 2011


      • #4
        Public achool all the way.


        • #5
          There are plenty of private schools filled with parents who have different opinions than the ones presented so far.  They believe that the closer attention and opportunity to expose young minds to diverse learning opportunities is of value.  The classes in our experience tend to move along faster.   That is not to say you can’t get a fine education at public schools.

          On the other hand, with your income, i have no idea how you afford the house you want and the tuition.  Plus vacations and college fund.  Retirement fund.  Etc etc.

          good luck with your decision


          • #6
            You are not crazy to want to do what is best for your children. Often, we just do not know what that is.

            We agonized over that decision on the night before the kindergarten deposit was required. We did pros&cons tables, flipped coins, queried education specialists, magic eight ball, etc.

            Ultimately, I took the stance that it was very easy to go from private-to-public if you changed your mind but not necessarily so in the other direction. And our son had some learning issues. So we went private. For the first eight or nine years, we had a regular discussion prior to recommitting, whether this was still the best choice. He ended up private, K-12.

            My daughter started private and switched to public at middle school.

            Our circumstances were different than yours, higher incomes, MUCH lower COL, and in retrospect, private school did not deter us from hitting our financial objectives, living a nice lifestyle, etc.

            But it will hold you back unless you move or make a lot more money. Good luck with the decision.


            • #7


              • #8
                The answer is unknowable. Now, for us looking back, it is more about the kid than about the school. For most kids public vs private won’t make much difference. On the other hand, if your child needs extra resources to learn, then the private route might be worth it because it could offer a better learning opportunity.  However, don’t forget about the learning opportunity in a public school where there are kids with lesser resources and different types of family structure.  That can also be a highly valuable experience for kids.


                • #9
                  Public. As someone who went to public elementary and private middle and high school, I saw no difference between myself and classmates, and some who went there since kindergarten weren’t all that great. Maybe they would’ve been worse off at public school, but I didn’t feel like students got any special attention unless you were really lagging behind, but tutors and parents can help in that role as well. There can be social problems as well in private, the higher tuition doesn’t necessarily insulate the kids from bad influences.


                  • #10
                    Public over private is a no brainer (for me) in your scenario.


                    • #11
                      Mine went to private preK and elementary school and public middle and high school.

                      The only reason we chose private was a little bit of learning and social issues preK when she needed a shadow for a few months and the issue of being born after the cut off date for public school for K and 1st grade. Private was more relaxed about the entry birth dates.

                      The private schools know that they have to do something to retain kids in the system and hence they try and teach a grade level above what the public school does (before you have the option of AP classes and all that). As one of the founders of a private secular school, we knew that parents will jump ship after the 1st grade when the birth-date criteria will not apply. To keep them for the 2-5th grades ( and make the school viable) the Principal and teachers made sure that the curriculum was one grade above public schools. When parents found out that by switching to public school the child will be repeating the same thing over again rather than leaning something new, they decided to keep them private and pay the fees.

                      The ranking of 7/10 and 10/10 is meaningless. In a public school you are going to have  a few slow learners who will pull ranking. But in a self selected private school costing 35K/year that is weeded out and you get 10/10.

                      Teach them extra at home and save than 35K / year x 2 children x 5 years.


                      • #12
                        I'd say public if you know which school path they'll take. Of course re-districting can occur. But if you have a stable district and real estate the odds are lower. This lottery system sounds to chaotic for me. Given the circumstances I'd probably go public given the costs but I'd be involved in their school work every day. Get a curriculum from the private school and follow it along, supplementing if need be.


                        • #13
                          I'm in the Vagabond camp.  It's the child and reassess constantly.  My sister is in SF and the public schools are great for the top driven learners.  Those learners will thrive in ANY environment though.  It's the mean that we look at as far as quality of the student body and extracurricular activities.

                          As dual earners, you have to take a close look at after school programs and activities.  Private schools often have a defined structured on-site program that extends and simplifies your life.  Also programming is often geared for working families.   Whether you like it or not, you're a high income earner.  Perhaps not keeping up with the Jones type, but you'll be IDd as such regardless of private/public schools.

                          IMHO, they are early on.  Try out public and test the waters.   Save for the down on the crazy house and for the $ for high school.  Urban, Lick, University is 40K+ right now IIRC.


                          • #14
                            Why not try pub school first to see how it goes. Will they really not take your $70k next year if you decide you don’t like pub schools.


                            • #15
                              Thanks for the input everyone. We are going to go public and if tjings don’t work out we will try to switch. She’ll be one of the oldest kids in K so I’m hopeful she’ll thrive. We have already worked with her every night on a curriculum we found for the last year so she is already almost done with K from an academic perspective at home.

                              From a financial perspective, I think we could swing it but it would be stressful and I’d rather cut back to 8/10 to spend extra time with the kids. Only 8 months done with fellowship, but I became a boglehead while in Med school so we have around $500k in retirement and $50k in 529 already. Expenses are quite low except for housing and preschool at this point.

                              Thanks again.