Think government school is free? Think again.
It may sound free, but add up what families actually spend on school and the answer may surprise you. Double or triple that number for families with multiple kids and it’s downright staggering.
The natural assumption is to think homeschooling is more expensive. Surely, the extra income made possible only by having two working parents must be cheaper than quitting a job and staying home.
Not so fast.
For well-paying jobs, maybe. But middle-income folks — especially those on the lower end – might want to re-examine the facts.
I’ve never met a parent who hasn’t forehead-slapped when actually looking over the numbers. And, while my figures are approximate at best*, I think they’ll be close enough to grab your attention.
If you’re used to waving good-bye to the school bus, it’s because it’s the only system you’ve ever known.
There is another way. And it isn’t necessarily more expensive. In fact, it might actually be cheaper.
Join me on this tour of some typical expenses incurred by families using government schooling. I promise you’ll never look at “free” school the same way again.
Let’s start with the basics. Those fixed costs for things that are fairly non-negotiable; that is, if you want your kid attending school that year. Parents usually have no trouble recognizing this list, since it’s pretty much the bare-bones price of attending free government school, per child, per year.
I’m estimating here, so let’s not nit pick. I’m trying to give you a general idea:
- Uniforms or dress code appropriate clothing: $200-$1,000
- Accessories not included in the above (e. g., headbands, shoes, socks, belts): $80-$300
- Lunch box and water bottle (for those carrying): $8-$25
- Backpack (regulation style): $20-$75
- School lunch, packed or purchased (with zero as free lunch or $2.50 per day): $0-$450
- Transportation to and from bus stop: $0-$300
- Required school supply list (e.g., notebooks and pencils): $20-$100
- Required classroom supplies (e.g., tissues and hand-sanitizers): $20-$50
Total spent per child for basics range from low to high, at about $348-2,300 per year.
But wait, there’s more. Lots more.
Let’s add in the essentials. These are the items not specifically required, but every parent knows their child needs anyway. Though they’re not always needed at the very start of the year, they manage to dent the budget early on, often accompanied by a, “…will aid student performance this year” note from the teacher.
- Course-specific tools (e.g., headsets, scientific calculators, electronics): $20-$500
- Gym clothing and athletic footwear: $50-$200
- Lanyard for school I.D. (dollar store vs. Vera Bradley): $1-$30
- School-approved sweaters and outerwear (though not allowed to wear in school): $30-$250
- Additional comfort items (varies by student and best known by teacher): $20-$100
Essentials tend to add another $121-$1,080 to the budget, increasing the annual total to $469-3,380 per student, per year.
Preventative and Routine Care
Preparing students for school and keeping them active and healthy during the school year are important, too. Thus, these categories come with the school package, too. Varying widely in cost, these are incurred at some point nonetheless, either before or at some time during the year:
- Physical exams and required immunizations: $0-$250
- Back-to-school hair cut, plus regular grooming throughout the year (conformance with school code): $40-$300
- Sunscreen (schools may not provide): $10-$30
- School breakfast (when none available at home, @ $1.50 per day): $0-$270
- Afterschool care (in school or other provider, either with a friend or a conservative $15 per day): $0-$2,700
- Transportation (gasoline for car drivers who cannot or will not use the bus): $360-$1,800
The tally at this point brings the annual total per child as high as $8,730 a year.
That’s not all.
Let’s not forget the near-essentials known to creep up unexpectedly during the year:
- Head lice protection: $30-$250
- Classroom gifts (for teacher or prize box): $10-$75
- Teacher gifts: $5-$100
- Fundraisers (i.e., those $17 tubs of cookie dough): $20-$250
- Special events (e.g., tickets, dances, trips, proms): $40-$600
- Purchased classroom treats (pre-packaged for parties and events): $10-$100
- Extracurricular costs (e.g., musical instruments, sporting gear): $50-$2,000
Bringing the grand total between $1,000 to over $12,000 per child, per year.
Eyes wide open yet? Let’s move on.
Add in these extras to make the year more manageable for students, and more pleasant for teachers and disciplinarians:
- Medications (recommended to help study & focus, or combat anxiety & depression): $0-$2,000
- Spare medications for the nurse’s office: $0-$250
- Private testing or learning diagnosis: $0-$1000 (or much more)
- Required change of clothing (younger students): $10-$50
- Afterschool trips to and from the public library to supplement non-existent school resources: $0-$100
- Tutoring for struggling students (from $20-$40 per hour): $700-$1,400
- Extra resources (i.e., spare copies of school books to keep at home, since school books must stay on campus): $20-$400
- PTA/PTO expenses (for the little extras not provided by the school): $0-$500
- Fees not covered (e.g., for labs, art projects and study aids): $20-$200
- Late fees (example: library books): $1-$25
- Competitions (e.g., required science fairs and speech contests): $20-$150
- Lost or stolen items (lunch box or trombone): $8-$500
Not to mention the inevitable:
- Bruises, sprains and broken bones on the playground $0-$3,000
- Flu vaccines and treatments: $0-$25
- Additional transportation to and from afterschool activities (or the detention hall): $25-$75
At this point, parents are spending $1,848-$21,780 per child. Each child. Each year.
That’s TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS folks. In real out-of-pocket money. And the list just keeps on going.
Oh. It’s per child.
So, unless you’re earning more than that times however-many-kids-you-have, it may be time to ask the important questions:
How much is it worth to send my kids to school? Are all of my earnings going toward paying for free school?
How much would I pay to keep my kids home? Is my salary worth it, when I really bring so little of it home?
What are my kids getting in return? Is the education they’re receiving worth it?
How can I put a value on the only childhood my kids will ever get?
For some, these are difficult questions. For others, however, seeing it in black and white provides a whole new perspective. And we’re only talking financials here — not all of the other effects that are impossible to put a price on.
Heads up. This doesn’t even begin to touch the cost of private schooling, either.
What would you say to eliminating these expenses?
What do you think life would look like with your children at home, influenced primarily by you?
How would your child’s life be different if he/she were educated at home instead?
Are you interested in making a life change that could change your child’s future forever?
Don’t forget, the returns of homeschooling are tremendous — academically, socially, and financially, too. Listen, because this is no small thing. The amount of college aid received by one homeschool graduate could theoretically offset the cost of staying home for a few years, or even the whole darned time! The earning potential of homeschool graduates is high, too, promising them the rewards of your investment.
What do you think of this concept? How do your expenses compare to those I have outlined here? Are they close — or maybe even higher?
In fairness, homeschooling comes with a price tag, too. And, though some do it completely free, most spend at least a little, maybe $100-$400 a year or more. But comparing the two worlds is ludicrous since it isn’t apples to apples we’re talking about. Thus numbers don’t tell the entire story.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Anyone can homeschool but homeschooling isn’t for everyone.” But if money is what’s holding you back, think again. Create a similar spreadsheet in your home to find out if home education is more affordable than you originally thought. Perhaps you’ll rethink the rewards of homeschooling all over again.
*Costs are approximate and derived from a survey of expenses incurred by families in my local area. Yours may vary.
Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau is a college professor who traded in her tenure to become a homeschool mom 20+ years ago. A homeschooling pioneer and the founder of many groups and organizations, she works to advance home education, and is an outspoken supporter of education reform coast to coast. Her book, Suddenly Homeschooling: A Quick Start Guide to Legally Homeschool in Two Weeks, is industry-acclaimed as it illustrates how homeschooling can rescue children and families from the public school system, and how anyone can begin homeschooling within a limited time-frame, with no teaching background whatsoever. A writer, a homeschool leader, and a women’s life coach, Marie-Claire mentors in a variety of areas that impact health, education and lifestyle. A conference speaker, she has appeared at FPEA, H.E.R.I., Home Education Council of America, The Luminous Mind, Vintage Homeschool Moms, iHomeschool Network, and many other events. Her articles have appeared in and on Holistic Parenting, CONNECT,Homefires, Homemaking Cottage, Kiwi, Circle of Moms, and hundreds of sites and blogs nationwide. Marie-Claire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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