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Choose a School: Public, Private, Charter

What Does Each School Type Offer?



Parents have much to consider when they decide where to send their child to school. Per the U.S. Department of Education, “The rapid growth of the charter school movement; the increasing number of states enacting scholarship and tax credit programs for students to attend private schools; the expansion of privately funded scholarship programs for low-income children; and the growing acceptance of homeschooling have all increased the choices available to families.”

Basic facts about school types

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates 50 million U.S. children currently attend public school, 2.5 million attend charter schools and around 5 million attend private schools. So what are the pros and cons?

Public schools receive state and federal funding, must follow government regulations and allow admission to all students who live in their district.

Charter schools are independently run public schools created and ruled by a contract or charter with an authorized organization such as a non-profit group, university or for-profit corporation. As a type of public school, charters must make enrollment open to all, but they can limit the number of spots available.

Private schools are self-funded and require tuition. Enrollment may be selective, and these schools do not have to follow all the same government rules and regulations that public schools do. However, many private schools distinguish themselves by providing rigorous, results-oriented academics and specific student-centered services, such as for learning differences.

School costs

Per the Private School Review, the average annual private-school tuition currently stands at $9,000, but in the greater Philadelphia area that average is closer to $16,500. The National Catholic Education Association reports that tuition for Catholic elementary school averages $3,880 and for secondary school averages $9,622.

For parents who want a different kind of education for their child, without a large price tag, charter schools stand out.

“I was looking for an alternative school that didn’t cost any extra money,” says Melissa Rebel, a mom from Lindenwold, NJ. “We switched from public school to a charter school. It’s just a lottery system and if your child gets picked, then you switch over. The state of New Jersey also reimburses you for mileage if you live outside the township where the school is located and need to provide your own transportation.”

Academic standards of school types

Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have adopted the Common Core State Standards to ensure equity among public school students in the 21st century. Public and charter schools must adhere to these standards.

Each charter school also must meet the standards promised in its charter. According to NCES, “A school’s charter is reviewed periodically by the group or jurisdiction that granted it and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or if the accountability standards are not met.”

Private schools often obtain accreditation as a form of accountability. For example, schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Camden Diocese of NJ and the Diocese of Wilmington have accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools, an organization that performs rigorous, on-going reviews of schools to ensure quality of education.

The Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools and New Jersey Association of Independent Schools also provide accreditation to private schools in each state.

School accountability

Accountability extends beyond academics to discipline problems and learning differences, and how schools handle these issues can vary.

Teri White, a South Jersey mom, had two sons in Catholic school until the younger one was bullied. She notes, “Catholic schools do not have to follow the bullying laws that are in place in public schools,” and she chose to move that son to public school.

Kerri Meenagh, a mother of two from Abington, PA, sent her two daughters to public school. When her younger child was diagnosed with ADHD and struggled in first grade, the move to Catholic school made sense. Meenagh says, “The public school wanted to push her through to second grade with support. The Catholic school agreed to have her repeat first grade. Many children can get reading and math support, speech therapy and counseling through the private schools in conjunction with the local Intermediate Unit.”

Specialized school programs

Private, public and charter schools offer a variety of academic, athletic and artistic programs and other benefits. Parents must do their research. A private or charter school might provide something a public school does not and vice versa.

For example, Rebel likes the small classes, STEM-based curriculum and longer school days offered at her child’s South Jersey charter school. Teri White’s elder son remained in a private all-boys prep school and reveled in the opportunities it offered.

After her experience with both public and private schools, White’s final comment is sound advice for all parents: “Not all kids are the same, and you do what is best for each one.”


Janet Tumelty is a South Jersey mom and freelance writer. 

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