By Brett Ashley Hawkins
With the budget crisis that has been hitting several branches of California’s state system, especially that of education, parents have been seeking an answer to a burning question: Is it better to send their child to a struggling public school for little cost, or to a private school with a heavy tuition that offers all the amenities a proper school needs? Private schools in Long Beach and adjacent cities have lately seen an increase in inquiries and applications as results of the cutbacks taking place, and, in an effort to assist families who are struggling financially, several private schools are offering various financial-aid and scholarship opportunities.
Private schools retain the right to choose their student body and are funded wholly or partly by the tuition of their students instead of relying on government funding. “We’re in the middle of a recession,” said Claudia Schou, whose son currently attends a private school. “There’s been a lot of cutbacks at public schools across the nation. Classroom [population] sizes are getting larger. Parents are concerned about this. My husband and I couldn’t send our kid [to private school] if it weren’t for the scholarship help.” Annual tuition fees at K–12 schools can cost up to at least $40,000 at some Los Angeles County academies.
Westerly School in Long Beach offers several financial-aid opportunities provided by School & Student Services (SSS) through the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Parents can inquire online and fill out the financial-aid forms on the NAIS website. On the site, parents can enter their W-2 information, assets and debt, and the online formula generates how much a family may earn through financial aid.
“Admissions are based on the state of the child, their family, their willingness to volunteer in a certain capacity, what they’ve given back to the campus, and what we can afford as a school,” said Kalim Rayburn, assistant head of school at Westerly. “Up to 50 percent of our tuition can be afforded if the parents’ financial aid is successful.”
Different schools offer different motives to parents to help them lower their education costs. Some schools feature a foreign-exchange program. If a parent hosts a child from another country for at least a year, schools will generally lower the tuition cost for the child that the parent is sending to school.
Scholarship programs are offered through the Southern California Children’s Scholarship Fund (SCCSF). Though scholarships are limited, the SCCSF sponsors nearly 2,000 students a year (more than 1,000 being in Los Angeles County).
A subsection of private schools involves religiously affiliated and denominational schools such as Grace Christian Schools in Long Beach and Huntington Beach. Grace Brethren Elementary School’s tuition varies from its middle-school and high-school tuitions. “Sixth grade is the most expensive, as it has more field trips to places such as Rawhide Ranch or Catalina,” said Tricia Peacock, whose sons both attended Grace Christian Schools. “There are many kids at Grace Christian who are scholarship-funded. It’s on an individual basis and not on their performance at all. It’s based on need. The school board tries to work with those parents that can’t completely afford tuition and want to pay what they can to get their child the smaller learning classrooms, individual attention, and chapel sessions. It’s the learning environment that many parents want their children to have.” Peacock also noted that elementary tuition for Grace schools costs roughly $400 per month and increases to about $750 per month for middle school.
On the flip side, other schools do not offer any kind of financial aid or scholarships, solely on the principle that they are exclusive to families who can afford a private education. Stephanie McDaniel, admissions director of Parkridge Private School, noted that such is that school’s current admissions policy.