Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And You Thought Public Schools Were Free . . .

As we start a new school year, one of the big things that makes me wonder whether homeschooling is a good idea or not is the cost. I think I spent about $1200 on school for my two girls this year, between curriculum and school supplies. When I compare that to the free public schools, it seems like a lot.

Then I ran across this article, from Chicago's Daily Herald, by Burt Constable, who sends his kids to a public school in one of our major metropolitan areas. Take a look at how much this "free" public school is costing him.
My wife and I could buy a 42-inch plasma HDTV with the money we spend on fees required to send our three kids to public schools.

There’s the “instructional materials” fee of $205 for each of our middle-schoolers, the $76 grade-school version of that fee, the “lunch supervisor” fee of $84 and myriad charges for gym uniforms, musical instrument rentals, field trips and general whathaveyou.

Topping it all off, we are required to send our kids to school with treasure troves of school supplies that include glue, Scotch tape, soft soap, a 54-function scientific calculator, a 512 MB flash drive and more Crayons, markers, colored pencils, pens, binders, folders, notebooks, scissors, erasers, highlighters, correction fluid, paper and sharpened No. 2 pencils than our kids can carry in their humongo backpacks, which are of a weight usually associated with sherpas.

When I was a grade-schooler, I included a pencil and maybe even a back-up pencil in the Swisher Sweets cigar box that carried all my supplies to school. Now, in this age of computers and printers, our sixth-grade twins are required to cart a mind-numbing total of 18 dozen pencils, pens and markers to school.
Mr. Constable is trying to keep this cost in perspective by comparing it to a homeschooler near him. But the homeschooler he's comparing himself to spends $7000 to school six kids. That sounds like a lot to me! I have a book on my bookshelf entitled, How to Homeschool Your Child for Free. I'll grant you, I don't use that method much, and I do spend significant money homeschooling. But I use excellent quality materials, and every year's curriculum I buy contributes a significant number of great titles to our home library. I don't buy many textbooks or workbooks, and I certainly don't spend money on "instructional materials" or "lunch supervisors," nor on supplies to restock the teacher's closet! The majority of the money I spend on curriculum and supplies provides our family with long-lasting value - not just this year, but for many years to come.

And for those who have less to spend, there are many resources they can use to homeschool for much less than I spend. Libraries are full of excellent, interesting books that can be borrowed free. People with more than one child can combine some resources, especially in areas like literature, history, and science. Some of the best curricula out there expects you to combine your kids for everything except math and language arts, or to re-use materials for younger children, substantially reducing the cost.

Statistics say the average homeschooler spends $600 to $1000 per child. That includes those individuals like Mr. Constable's acquaintance who spend $1200 each for six kids, which means many families homeschool for much less. Mr. Constable is already spending somewhere around $1000 for his three kids; it wouldn't cost him much more to homeschool.

As for me, it's a real encouragement to know that homeschooling isn't all that expensive compared to public school.


Kimmer said...

I use a lot of free materials, through both the internet and the library. I haven't kept track of how much I spend on other stuff, but I haven't bought a ready made curriculum so far.

Another cost issue is that with homeschooling, there is a lot less pressure to have the newest and priciest clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc.

Marcy Muser said...


I totally agree about the cost of clothes, shoes, etc. For the one-day-a-week homeschool enrichment program I go to (sponsored by the public school so it costs me nothing), my 6th-grade daughter wants the nicest clothes. She's willing to live with ordinary, less expensive clothes the rest of the week. If she went to school, she'd want nice clothes all week.

I don't think Mr. Constable really has any idea how close his expenses are to the expense of homeschooling. When I added up how much he was spending, I realized his "free" public schools are costing him almost as much as my "expensive" homeschooling.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Kimmer said...

And don't forget fundraisers! Maybe all those fees cover that, so Mr. Constable doesn't get to deal with that joy.

Marcy Muser said...


Oooh, good point about the fundraisers! I HATE those things - we have to do one or two every year for my daughter's swimming team, and I really detest them. I can't imagine trying to do fundraisers for school, though I know many of my neighbors' kids come around a couple of times a year.

Shawna said...

Let's see...my three high schoolers here in a California public school get $300.00 each for school clothes and supplies. Then I have to write a check to the school for $92-$112 for each of them for their lockers, yearbooks and Foriegn Language Books. If they are to ride the school bus that is another $160 per child per year...and then there are lunch costs because high school kids will simply go with out rather than take a sack for lunch (sometimes the boys will make and take a sandwhich.)

And then there are always field trips that costs and projects that costs and class parties in which we have to buy things for and PE uniforms and shoes and replacement shoes mid-way through the year.

It gets very costly!!!

This being our 1st year homeschooling my youngest, 2nd grade, and doing it through the District...all of my curriculum has been provided. Granted, we have bought additional stuff especially books...but we always bought books and have a great home library; and then our travelling and field trips are costing, but are so worth it; and we only bought a few outfits for D because that is when we buy our children clothes: back-to-school, birthdays and Christmas.

So homeschooling hasn't really costs us anything yet...and what it will cost us won't compare to what it would have cost in public school.