Paying for Private School

A Principal Explains Your Options

Wendy Weiner
Wendy Weiner. Photo © Wendy Weiner

We all know that private school is expensive, and it's not uncommon for parents to sometimes have trouble paying private school tuition. Dr. Wendy Weiner, Principal of Conservatory Prep Senior High in Davie, Florida answers some of the questions parents have and explains their options.

1. The major breadwinner in the family has been laid off. The family has one child in tenth grade at private school. They cannot afford to pay the next four months of tuition. What do you suggest they do?

This is a phenomenon we are seeing more and more. Individuals with high paying jobs being laid off. First, go through your finances and determine your budget and what you can realistically afford for the next four months. Even if it is $200 per month, rather than $1,500. The economic situation, although may seem bleak, can turn around quickly and you may be wanting to place your child back at the school. Speak with the administration regarding your financial situation. Be up front and honest. Is there a service you can provide to the school for the next four months? Schools don't want to lose their students midway through the year, especially good students.

2. If parents have savings for college, should they use these funds to pay for private school tuition?

I am asked this question regularly. What is most important is if your child is thriving in a particular school during the teen years, both academically and socially, don't move. I can't emphasize this enough. The high school years are very difficult and to find an environment where your child excels is very important. I have seen students placed in a large high school, feel very lost and not involved in activities and earn poor grades. The parents don't want to move him to a private school, because the money is being saved for college. However, if the child continues to earn low grades and does not develop extra-curricula interests, paying for college won't be a problem. Granting acceptance will be. The reality is that there are more scholarships available for colleges than for private high schools. Even with the turbulent economy, there are many options including scholarships and very low-interest loans for college.

3. Aren't parents obliged by contract to pay tuition and other expenses?

Yes. Parents sign a contract that they agree to pay tuition for the year. The schools count on this money to meet their expenses. The school is put in a very bad predicament when teachers are hired, leases are signed for buildings, etc. and then students do not fulfill their contracts. If you are not sure if you will be able to fulfill your contract, speak with the school about your concerns. Sometimes schools may put in provisions in the contract for special circumstances.

4. Can't parents go back to the school and renegotiate their financial aid package for the current year?

Definitely. Schools are businesses and need students to survive. Often you can re-negotiate a new payment plan or financial aid package. The institution would rather receive some money to cover basic costs than ​to receive nothing. However, there are some students who 'drain' the system with their needs. Be realistic with your expectations and your child's needs.

5. What advice can you offer parents who are looking at private school for the coming year?

With all of the negative, there is a positive side. Private schools have been forced to 'up their game'. Faculty who were not of the highest standards have been let go and programs which are of low quality have been cut from the budget. Schools know that parents have choices and are competing for each child. The schools have had to re-evaluate their own programs, curriculum and expectations. Those schools which are not able to offer a high standard of education will be closing, while those which are strong will flourish. Parents will find a higher quality of school at a fair price than they have known in the past. With budget cuts in the public schools, academic standards and expectations have been lowered, therefore making it difficult to obtain a publicly funded quality education.


Updated by Stacy Jagodowski