Frugal Alternatives to Public School

by Jamie Simmerman · 5 comments


With so many concerns over sending your kids to public school, many parents are looking for educational alternatives. No matter what your specific gripe about public education is, you can find a solution for your family that fits into your budget.

When it comes to alternative educational options, it’s important to remember that the entire family will need to make sacrifices so that a better education is the priority. From tuition to home schooling, private education will take a large chunk out of the family budget one way or another. Many families, however, are willing to make sacrifices to gain the benefits of an alternative education.

Frugal Alternatives to Public School

1. Private Schools

Though the most expensive schooling option, private schools are still a good fit for many families. Most have smaller class sizes, more structured frameworks, and themed goals — such as religious or military teaching — integrated into the main curriculum.

To make private schools more affordable, you can look into scholarships or discounts for paying cash or an entire year’s tuition up front. You can also see if your private school of choice offers discounts if you or your spouse put in a certain number of volunteer hours at the school.

2. Digital Academies

One of the newest educational offerings, digital academies come in different formats. You can opt for a digital academy where your children meet with a virtual class or teacher online via a webcam, a format where your kids do work independently at home and meet at a physical location weekly to work in groups, or a format that resembles traditional homeschooling but with the support of a digital academy.

While some of these options are determined by which academy you choose, others are determined by the curriculum you decide on, as well. This will require some extensive research on your part to decide which options suit your family’s needs the best. One of the nice things about digital academies is that most of them offer traditional public school support services. In fact, many public schools are now hosting digital academies for families who want an alternative to public school.

With a digital academy, your child can still get IEP services, tutoring, speech therapy, and annual state testing — all free of charge. In fact, many digital academies are tuition-free, using the state’s allocation for educational funds to supply the curriculum and services your child needs. This makes digital academies a frugal choice for families who want more control over their child’s education.

3. Traditional Homeschooling

This form of private education can be tailored for each individual family. Approaches range from free-form “un-schooling” to an educational format that closely resembles public school. Like digital academies, this choice requires an adult to put in hours with the child for education.

The parent (or other designated adult) is responsible for overseeing the child’s progress, teaching the materials, and submitting all required paperwork. The parents will also have to purchase curriculum, pay for a certified teacher to verify lesson plans or tests, and purchase any additional educational supplies.

Tips for Making Educational Alternatives More Affordable

1. If you’re planning on staying home to teach your kids, you may find pursuing your own higher education at the same time to be worthwhile. Online classes or non-traditional programs coordinate well with home education, while also allowing you to make a long-term investment in your own career.

2. Social activities are plentiful in nearly any community, and many of them are free. Digital academies often have field trips that are free or discounted, and local libraries and wildlife centers may have homeschooling clubs with educational and social activities for kids and families. Check with your local YMCA and church groups to find more groups and activities. Facebook groups are also a great source for connecting with opportunities and families in your area.

3. Cooperative sharing between families can help reduce the financial burden of alternative education. Parents can take turns teaching groups of children, share educational supplies, or trade used curriculum to save time and money.

How do you make alternative education more affordable?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Bill Guard says:

    I think that all the options you outlined — private school, digital academies, homeschooling — are good options, and also, some public schools can also be fantastic options. In short, I think it’s wonderful that there’s such a diverse array of choices that can fit every parent’s priorities, values and budget.

    Some public schools are better options than others, so its important to be involved in school selection (and to be willing to move houses in order to get to the school that’s the best fit for your family).

  • Thad says:

    We have our child in a private school and it has been a positive experience for our family. The particular school we are in has 25% of the kids on scholarship. Even without a scholarship it is not over expensive. You have to do what is right for your family.

  • @pfinMario says:

    Wow. I would just find a way to make public school work. I went to school across town to go to the best public high school in the city; after my parents moved across the state to get to an area of better public schools in general (all this, of course, after they moved countries). It’s all a matter of how much you want it.

  • Priswell says:

    Homeschooling is not an instant, easy answer to the educational problem, but it’s available, and a good option for many.

    Be sure to check out the Private School Affidavit for homeschooling in California, or corresponding options in your home state, because in most cases, it is not required that you sign up for a public school sponsored option.

  • Dona Collins says:

    Great information here. I know quite a few kids who homeschool for various reasons – gynmastics, theater, modeling, etc. Some homeschool because their parents simply prefer it. I think there are pros and cons to any method of schooling, but always stress the importance of making sure your child has the opportunity to socialize with others.

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