NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Education Costs Less

March 26, 1996

Tuition at private elementary and secondary schools is less than the cost per pupil at public schools, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education. A survey of private elementary and high schools nationwide found:

  • The average annual private elementary school tuition nationwide is less than $2,500.
  • With secondary schools included, the average tuition is $3,116.
  • Some 67 percent, or more than 17,000, of all private elementary and secondary schools charge $2,500 or less, and 19 percent charge less than $1,000.
  • Average public school spending per pupil nationwide is $6,857.

To determine the availability of lower-cost tuitions in cities of various sizes and in different regions, researchers surveyed all private schools in Indianapolis, San Francisco, Jersey City, N.J., and Atlanta and compared their tuition charges with public school costs.

  • Average spending per pupil in Indianapolis public schools was $4,678, while the median (middle) private elementary tuition was $2,180 and secondary tuition was $1,850.
  • In San Francisco public schools, the average was $4,489, while the median elementary tuition was $2,225 and secondary tuition was $7,200 -- although seven private high schools charged less than the public school average.
  • In Jersey City, the public school average was $8,315, and the median for private elementaries was $1,775 and for high schools $3,210.
  • Public school districts in Atlanta spent $5,769 per pupil, while the median at private elementaries was $3,312 and at secondary schools was $5,600.

Researchers point out that the actual cost for education in both public and private schools is understated. For example, the public school cost doesn't include capital outlays and pension liabilities, and private tuition income is supplemented by charitable contributions and donated labor.

Source: David Boaz and R. Morris Barrett, "What Would a School Voucher Buy?" Briefing Paper No. 25, Tuesday, March 26, 1996, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 842-0200.


Browse more articles on Education Issues