Is Private School Affordable?

Louisiana is known for food, festivals, and an eclectic culture that is deeply rooted in religious beliefs. For many, Mardi Gras is simply a time to indulge in good food and drink, however, the celebration actually began as a religious holiday. Understanding the state’s religious heritage may help explain why Louisiana is third in the nation for private school enrollment. Approximately 19 percent of Louisiana schools are private, and the majority of these are faith-based, with the highest percentage either Catholic or Christian. For the current school year, there are approximately 68 private schools in East Baton Rouge serving over 19,000 students.

Private schools offer an option for families who want to provide their children with a faith-based education. However, this often comes at a significant cost. In fact, tuition for private schools has increased 20 percent over the past eight years, making this a burdensome expense for many families. Despite the costs, there are many ways families can manage the expense.

Investing in the Future
According to Jennifer Barrett, AMS, CRPC, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones, the key to managing tuition costs for families is balance. “The challenge for families is often trying to save for tuition costs while also saving for retirement,” says Barrett. “But it doesn’t mean you have to pick one or the other.”

One option, explains Barrett, is setting up a 529 account. Funds contributed to this type of account can be used for K-12 tuition expenses and provide the family with tax benefits. This can be a real win-win for families. “The growth is tax deferred, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as the money is used for qualified education expenses,” says Barrett. As an added plus, it’s not only the parents who can contribute. Friends or family looking for a non-traditional gift? Anyone who contributes to a child’s 529 fund can also potentially earn tax credit for the donation.

Bottom line, when it comes to financial savings, there are many options and plenty of things to consider. Barrett reminds families, “Time is the biggest tool we have, so the sooner families look at their options, the better. It never hurts to talk with an advisor; have a conversation so you know your options.”

School-Based Assistance
In order to make tuition more accessible for families, many schools offer payment plans, financing options, and tuition assistance. Many schools offer a loan option in which tuition is paid in installments over a time period. An installment plan is usually financed through a bank or other institution, and payments are subject to interest rates. However, having a payment plan can be more manageable for families instead of one lump sum payment.

Another option is school-based tuition assistance. According to Head of School, Dr. Carrie Steakley of Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, tuition assistance awards are provided to students based on need and spread across all grade levels. “Last year, Episcopal awarded over $2.6 million in assistance to 33 percent of students,” says Dr. Steakley. Episcopal, like other faith-based private schools, also offers merit scholarships. 

Taking advantage of these opportunities can help make tuition more manageable. Often, schools have specific offices or people such as the Director of Tuition Assistance or Director of Admissions ready to assist. Families are encouraged to visit a school’s website or call for specific information.

Balancing the Budget
While many schools offer a variety of ways to assist families, for some families, making tuition manageable simply means balancing the budget. For local mom, Jennifer J., paying for private school tuition requires a lot of planning. “School tuition is in the top ‘Big Three’ of my monthly payments, including the house note and car note,” she says. “But I have to spread the payments out so that the big three come out of alternating paychecks, and my paydays rotate, so this takes planning.”

Local mom, Annie S., has four children in private school. “We have made the choice to send our children to schools that reflect our religious beliefs,” says Annie. “Ultimately, we believe it is our job as parents to raise our children in our faith.” To successfully manage tuition payments, it takes sacrifice. Annie explains, “We get a tax refund every year and that is how we pay for most of tuition.” But to really make things work, there are other adjustments. “We don’t go on big vacations and my kids don’t go to camp. I am very happy with my nine-year-old vehicle because it’s paid for and still running well. Our clothing budget is very small,” she continues. While the sacrifices may be hard sometimes, she believes they are worth it. “The sacrifices we are making for our children are worth more than material things–not to mention the valuable lessons these sacrifices we make as a family are teaching our children.”

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23 Dec 2020

By Melanie Forstall Lemoine, Ph.D.

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