Unlike public schools, private schools do not rely on government funding. They are supported by tuition, by grants from charitable organizations, and in the case of religious schools, by religious institutions. There are approximately 27,500 private schools in the United States, with some 395,000 teachers serving about 6 million students. Private schools include nonsectarian schools and religious schools covering many denominations (the term parochial usually denotes Catholic schools but can mean other Christian or Jewish institutions).
Tuition costs for private schools vary. As of 2002, figures available from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), indicated that nonsectarian private schools were the most expensive and Catholic schools were the least. Still tuition for school runs into tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a child’s school years. Why would parents send their children to private schools when they have the option of sending them to public school for free?
For some, private school represents a stronger curriculum than public education can offer and a more personalized one as well. Public schools are generally much larger than private schools, and class size is also larger. Fewer students per teacher means that the teacher can spend more time one-on-one with each student.
The atmosphere in private and parochial schools is also different, sometimes vastly so, from that of public schools. A private school can focus its attention on a student’s particular talents, such as music or science. As for parochial schools, they can provide religious instruction that no public school would be allowed to offer. This religions instruction is included in a curriculum that is generally strong academically.
Not merely the educational experience but also the social experience weighs in the minds of many parents as well. Schools that are unsafe (which could included anything from a building with antiquated electrical and heating systems to a school with a high rate of juvenile crime) make for a difficult atmosphere in which to learn. In general, these problems are more likely to develop in a public school than in a private one.
Teacher salaries tend to be lower in private schools, although some private schools offer teachers perks such as free meals and even free housing on campus. This gives private institutions more of a competitive edge against public systems that can pay quite well. Parents often perceive this as a sign that private school teachers are more committed to teaching than some of their public school counterparts.