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James and Patty Ballentine live in Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of the nation’s most affluent African American communities. They chose the area, in part, because they thought it would be a great place to bring up their two small children, William, age five, and daughter Kendal, one. The neighborhoods are comfortable and well groomed, and the playgrounds and backyards are filled with other children who will be raised with values and aspirations similar to the Ballentines’. There’s just one problem. “I got to know the public school system very well,” says James, who at the time the Ballentines moved in worked as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Maryland). “And I couldn’t bear to send my children there.”
He’s not alone. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), 5.9 million, or approximately 11%, of the 52.2 million children educated in the United States are enrolled in private schools. A little over 17% of the 456,000 children enrolled in NAIS member schools are children of color. Their parents’ reasons for sending them to private school may vary. A poor public school system, their own high academic standards or a desire for smaller classes that provide more individual attention are a few of the reasons parents opt for private school. But one thing they all have in common is this: each faces the financial dilemma of forking over an awful lot of money each year to educate children in preschool through
And don’t get James Ballentine started on college. When William was one, a financial advisor told James to pick two schools he would want his son to attend, each at opposite ends of the financial spectrum. He picked the University of Maryland, for which he would get an in-state tuition rate, and Georgetown, a prestigious private university in Washington, D.C. “If I wanted to send my child to Maryland,” James was advised, “I would have to save $200 per month for 17 years. For Georgetown, I’d have to save $900 per month. If you could, imagine the fear in my eyes when he said $900 a month. Even at the rate I’m saving now, I won’t be able to afford it.”
Fear and panic are common among the parents of school-age children when they think of the daunting cost of private school. The bad news is that each year the cost of elementary-secondary education rises by nearly 7%, according to the NAIS. The good news, though, is that with proper planning-whether children attend private or public schools, at the elementary, secondary or university level-most parents can afford to send their offspring to college. And if, like many, you’ve waited until your child is in middle or high school to start thinking of tuition costs, it’s still not too late.
For two years, Deborah Frazier, a vice president and senior financial consultant at Merrill Lynch & Co., sent her son Zachary, five, to the Hitchcock Church Weekday School in Scarsdale, New York. “I want to make sure my