Should You Have To Pay for Public School?

by Elizabeth on April 8, 2013 · 6 comments

This fall, my daughter will board the big yellow school bus for the first time, which will whisk her away for her first day of kindergarten. It’s a milestone we’ve been looking forward to – and preparing for – since the day she was born. In fact her entrance into kindergarten is a key reason why we’ve decided to move back to my hometown; if we stayed where we live currently, she’d miss the district’s cut off date and would have to go to preschool for another year.

But her new school district comes with a catch. Although she’ll be attending public school, the district only provides half-day kindergarten; full-day kindergarten is available, but only if you pay tuition.

It sounds uncanny – paying tuition for public school? While we expect to pay school tuition for preschool, before- and after-school programs, and private school, no one in their right mind expects to shell out extra cash for their child to attend public school, specifically when the public school is their home district. (There are some school district’s with open enrollment policies, which will accept students from neighboring districts, provided they pay tuition.)

The Nuts & Bolts

Half-day kindergarten comes at no extra cost, but full-day kindergarten would cost me an additional $3,500 a year. Over the 180 days on the school calendar, that’s like paying $19.44 a day for the full-day program. The half-day program would send my daughter to school either for three hours each morning or three hours each afternoon; the full-day kindergarten class is in session for 6.5 hours a day, and is separate from the half-day – my daughter would only be in class with other full-day students, they would have their own teacher, and it wouldn’t be just a repetition of the morning program in the afternoon. Since the full-day kindergarten would really only give my daughter 3.5 additional hours of schooling a day, it would be like paying $5.55/hour extra – that’s substantially less than minimum wage.

What’s Best for My Daughter

For the past two years, my daughter’s attended a really top-notch preschool program. Last year, she attended class three mornings a week for three hours at a time, for a total of nine weekly hours in the classroom; this year, she’s going to pre-K five days a week for four hours a day, for a total of 20 hours a week. Thanks in no small part to this extended time in the classroom, she’s already reading at just four-and-a-half years old.

Enrolling her in the district’s basic half-day program, I feel, would be a step back for her. She’s already adjusted to a school setting ages ago, and she already knows many of the skills that wouldn’t be taught until the second semester of kindergarten if not first grade.

What’s Best for Mommy

In the next few weeks, I’ll be transitioning back to a full-time working schedule. Although I’ll still be working from home – I’ll be telecommuting indefinitely – I’ll be required to put in more hours than I was when I was only freelancing and able to determine my own routine.

With this in mind, I feel the extra cost of full-day kindergarten is well worth it. I don’t think I could find a part-time childcare arrangement that would cost me less than the $3,500 I’ll pay in school tuition; nor would whatever program I’d find be such a good use of my daughter’s time.

Have you ever had to pay for public school? Do you think it’s a ridiculous prospect, or totally justifiable given school districts’ financial hardships over the past few years?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Money Beagle April 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Here in Michigan, they mandated that districts had to provide full day kindergarten, but the rub was that they didn’t provide any additional funding, instead they threatened that they would cut funding to any non-compliant districts. So essentially districts had to find a way to incorporate that cost in without getting any extra revenue to pay for it. The districts squawked, of course, but it is what it is.


2 krantcents April 8, 2013 at 4:13 pm

i am a public school teacher and I never heard of it. I think you have to do what is best for your child and you. In the long run, that is what is important.


3 Newlyweds on a Budget April 8, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Hmm, maybe it depends on where you live? Perhaps it’s different now but when I went to kindergarten it was only half-day and full-day wasn’t an option. I guess it’s still considered a form of daycare.


4 Craig Kingston April 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

We don’t have to pay for public school, but we do have to pay for our kids riding the bus to and from school each day. It is $200/year per child. When our daughter went to kindergarten it was only for 3 hours per day in the morning or afternoon. We lamented the shortness of the school day, but once doing it began to appreciate that this gave us a little extra time with her before “real” school took her from us all day everyday. She was also reading in preschool. She was ahead of her class significantly until 4th grade which made it a little difficult for her teachers, but they were able to differentiate for her. In hindsight, it really didn’t matter that she was ahead. Everything worked out just fine in the long run, and now she is attending an excellent academic college and continuing to excel. Try not to stress about every little thing about your child’s education. It is miraculous to see that they usually end up just fine even if we don’t try to control everything!


5 eemusings April 11, 2013 at 5:14 am

In NZ, public school is supposedly free, though there’s annual fees couched as ‘donations’ that basically everyone pays (usually under $200).


6 Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide April 20, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Educationally, it’s a wash. She’s not going to lose a thing in half-day kindergarten. But if she enjoys it and/or your need it, then that’s the way to go!


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