NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are There Enough Private Schools?

March 26, 1999

In the debate over providing school vouchers, a practical question arises over the capacity of private schools to handle a substantial influx of students from public schools. Will there be sufficient space and adequate numbers of teachers to provide a quality education?

Some analysts say there will be.

  • There are currently three private school seats available for every child whose parents apply.
  • There are more than 3,100 private schools serving the 22 urban communities with the most overcrowded public school systems, according to the Department of Education.
  • With one-third of these private schools now operating below 70 percent of full capacity, the department estimates there are between 150,000 and 185,000 private spaces available in these urban districts alone.
  • Parochial school administrators report that the national average Catholic tuition of $1,499 covers only 62 percent of the cost of education -- with the rest covered by the church.

Clearly, the funds are not there to increase capacity.

Jerome Porath, superintendent of Catholic schools in Los Angeles, reports that building a typical parish elementary school for 300 students costs between $8 million and $10 million. A bond issue at 6 percent on $9 million amortized over 30 years results in a $654,000 annual mortgage.

So a voucher would need a price hike of $2,180 over the $1,499 tuition for debt service on the construction bond. Experts believe that publicly-funded vouchers of between $3,500 and $4,000 are feasible, since public schools are now spending an average of $6,500 annually on each pupil.

Source: Samuel Casey Carter (Heritage Foundation), "A Question of Capacity," Investor's Business Daily, March 26, 1999.


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