When I attended public school as a child, I never thought about how much money my mom had to spend to make that a reality. My biggest concern was getting the right outfits and shoes for my first day of school.
Now that I’m a parent, budgeting is something I have to consider. Having tried both homeschooling and public schooling for my own children, I’ve learned firsthand the different costs associated with both methods. My personal experiences have clearly answered the question Which is really more expensive: public school or homeschool? The answers for others may differ, depending on their personal educational goals.
The Costs of Public Schooling
1. School shopping: Remember those perfect outfits that you wanted for the first day of class as a child? When our children entered public school, it became my responsibility to pay for school clothes—times two. In addition, the school supply list for each grade is extensive. Each child is expected to contribute to the classroom’s supply closet, including reams of copy paper, flash drives, crayons, markers, highlighters, and headphones. Simply purchasing the items on these list for each of my children required me to spend more than some would normally spend on school supplies for an entire year of homeschooling . I however would be asked to purchase more items by Christmas break when supply levels dwindled.
2. School events: Public schools and private schools host several school shows, fundraisers, parent nights, conferences, awards ceremonies, and sporting matches each year. An involved parent may spend several days and nights a month at the school volunteering for these events, supervising their child’s participation, or helping to organize future events. These events often cost money—either for tickets or for the equipment—and can quickly do a number on a household budget.
3. Time and energy: As with homeschooling, I found that the time and energy that public school required from me was one of the biggest cost. Adapting to the early mornings was extremely difficult, especially for my daughter who had to rise at 6:15 a.m. and is not a morning person. After my children arrived home, each of them needed help with several different homework assignment for different teachers. So they all needed my one-on-one attention especially my ASD son to understand their lessons, remember what they learned, and complete their homework. I spent at least two hours a night simply helping them with homework.
4. Control: While my children were in public school, I gave up a lot of control. I can't control who comes in contact with my children while at school. I can't control what they are being taught. I can't control the influence that is put on them by those entrusted to teach them. This was my number one expense when I weighed my options. Expense can sometimes not be monetary, and can cost you the most. I recently was told of my nephew in second grade whose spelling words for the week included separate. The definition they gave him to use, when a mother and father break up. I had to pull my jaw up off the floor when I read it. What are they really teaching our kids and how is that appropriate. The indoctrination that happens in the public school come at a steep cost.
5. One size fits all approach: If you have a child with learning difficulties or you've experienced them yourself you know how flawed this way of thinking can be. Children are all so unique but from a young age are taught they have to conform to be a round peg so they can fit in. When your child is a square peg and literally can do nothing to change that the cost of a public school education becomes steep. They are often left to fend for themselves or moved along at a pace they can't keep up with. This results in feelings of being a failure and further separates them from their peers.
The Costs of Homeschooling
1. Purchasing curriculum and books: The cost of homeschool curriculum is a major consideration when making a homeschool budget. Depending on the programs you choose, a year of curriculum can cost from a few hundred dollars to over $1000 each year, sometimes per child. Although there are many free and low-cost curriculum resources available on the internet, parents do have to be careful to make a comprehensive plan with high quality materials. Hobboling together an assortment of unrelated materials while free will cost lots of time to assemble into a yearly curriculum. Even the most frugal of homeschool parents still have to spend some money to educate their children. Many homeschooling parents, including myself, choose to keep a home library. Curating a quality library for my children can become expensive. However, there are ways to keep it affordable reselling books that children no longer read, using the public library, audiobooks and buying secondhand.
2. Activities and socialization: While all parents bear the brunt of afterschool extracurricular activties, homeschool parents may find their share is a little larger without the support of programs in the local public schools. They often want to be more diligent to offer socialization oppertunties, homeschool parents may invest a considerable amount of money or time into co-ops, field trips, and activties with local homeschool groups.
3. Time and energy: Time has a big cost when it comes to homeschooling. I was unaware how much time it would actually require to educate my own children. While I spend minimal hours planning lessons each week thanks to the ease of a boxed curriculum. Most of my day is consumed however with teaching, they both need that one to one support. Basically homeschooling is a full time job with no salary only just a deep sense of accomplishment as you watch your children blossom.
4. Control: This is where I get to take a big pair of scissors to slice the cost sheet on homeschooling. I get to decide who and what has access to my children. I get to decide what they learn and when. The ability to teach critical thinking skills, which isn't taught in public school. I don't have to worry about my child being indoctrinated with someone else’s ideas of right and wrong. They can be presented with all of the facts and make informed decisions themselves.
5. Individualized education: As we are still a fairly new homeschooling family the cost of that one size fits all education system is still fresh for us. I learned quickly that my son had been moved along at his own expense vs. taking the time to get him where he needed to be. When you homeschool this is another area, in my opinion you can make slashes to the cost of homeschooling. The ability to meet your children where they are and to be able to build off their interests is almost invaluable. When you homeschool you can have your child at different levels in different subjects according to their abilities. There is no holding them back and no pushing them forward before they are ready.
When A Child Has Special Needs
Weighing the costs of public schooling versus homeschooling is especially critical when a child has special needs. Both of my children have ADHD and my son also has ASD, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, NF1 and SPD so our homeschool lessons have always been structured around their needs for movement, quick lessons, and constant reviewing.
In public school, this modification was difficult and most times not followed according to his IEP. Teachers usually have very little flexibility to accommodate for these kids with learning differences, because of the teacher to student ratio. This means it often falls to the kids to adapt and try to fit in. It was clear to me that if our children stayed in public school, they’d be ill-equipped to enter the world and work force. For me, this was an unacceptable cost. Them being moved along because of the schools inability to accommodate their needs was going to cost them a lifetime of difficulties.
Whether homeschooling or public schooling is more expensive depends on each parent’s ideas of true cost and real value.
Can the public school educate my child?
Do I have the money and time to invest to homeschool my children?
Will children participate in extracurricular activities?
What are things I'm willing to give up for my child's educational goals?
What are real costs, what holds true value and how do I weigh these?
Which method is more expensive for each family depends on the family, according to the kind of education each parent wants for their children. No matter the costs, both public school and homeschooling have their benefits and can provide a rewarding education for kids. It's up to you to decide which costs and which sacrifices you are willing to make.
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