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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

The Case for Financial Aid in K-12 Private Schools

For some parents, financial need is a necessity to afford sending their student to the school. For other parents who can afford the school, you might why it matters.

How much can I afford?

For many parents, private school is not possible without financial aid. While we traditionally think of financial aid as a program for parents who live in poverty, middle class parents also need assistance. Essentials such as taxes, housing, food, health insurance, and basic clothing for a growing child, require a substantial amount of income, especially in high cost of living areas. In San Francisco, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development defines $149k as low income. From a practical perspective, say a parent earns $150k, using an income tax calculator on Gusto, we can estimate that the parent would bring home approximately $99k per year or $8215 per month. A typical two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco costs approximately $4500 per month. Depending on whether the family has employer subsidies for healthcare, Covered CA quotes medical insurance at $700 to $1500 per month. Groceries for a family of four can easily cost over $500 per month. This excludes clothing, occasional meals out, summer camps, sports and supplemental classes. Meanwhile, most K-8 independent school costs up to $40,000 per year, and high schools close to $60,000 per year, with payments available spread over ten months. Clearly, a family of four cannot afford $80,000 to $120,000 in tuition ($8,000 to $12,000 per month) on top of basic living expenses. Needless to say, parents should be saving for retirement and college, as there is no financial aid for retirement!

How can I assess a school’s financial aid program?

While many schools have substantial financial aid budgets, the dollar amounts cannot be directly compared because of differences in the number of students, the tuition cost per student, and the average grant per student. Rather than look at the total budget in dollars, look for the percent of students receiving financial aid and the average grant per student. For instance, at my children’s current schools, approximately half the students receive need-based financial assistance, whereas at one school that waitlisted my son for financial aid, about a quarter receive assistance. While a higher average grant sounds generous, it typically implies a lower average income of the families receiving grants and a less robust middle class financial aid program. For instance, using the above amounts for a family of four earning $150,000 per year, we would not expect a full scholarship but rather a partial scholarship bringing down the monthly payments to something that fits within a reasonable budget for this income. For this reason, school with students from a broad spectrum of incomes will have a lower average grant than schools that only grant aid to very low income families.

What if I can afford tuition?

For high earners who can pay tuition, we might wonder why they would actively select a school with a robust financial aid program. The answer is two fold. While some might care about equity and fairness for their neighbors’ children, most will care about the school culture. Schools where most students come from very high income households will teach their children to expect a high spending lifestyle. For instance, if the majority of parents earn over $1 million per year, your student might expect lavish vacations, designer clothing, a car at sixteen, and frequent meals out. Those kids on financial aid, if very low income in a school of multimillionaires, might feel left out and conspicuous for wearing inexpensive clothing and spending their vacations camping. And yet, even very high earning parents might want their children to develop an appreciation for money, hard work, and the things their parents buy them. Socioeconomic diversity at their schools is the best foundation for this appreciation. For this reason, a parent might be happiest with a school that has a high portion of students receiving aid and a moderate average grant that would represent the average family receiving financial aid.


Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.

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Feb 03, 2023

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