Back To School : COUNTYWIDE : Private Schooling Gains Popularity
This fall, Steve Shedd will plunk down nearly $10,000 to send his two oldest children to Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita. It will be quite a financial pinch for Shedd, particularly since he has never had to pay for his children’s education before.
But Shedd, an antiques dealer whose son and daughter were enrolled at University High School in Irvine, says the extra money he will have to dole out will be worth it.
“I never thought I would be sending my kids to a private school, but I feel I have to,” said Shedd, who last school year led a rally to protest proposed cuts in athletic programs in the Irvine Unified School District. “Private school is the best thing for my children now. Public schools are losing out in the ability to compete. With all the cutbacks made in public schools, it was the last straw.”
After several years of plunging enrollment, private schools are gaining students despite higher tuition costs and the continuing recession. In the last three years, total enrollment in Orange County private schools has risen from 41,699 to 44,688, an increase of 7%.
Parents increasingly are finding that private schools are a viable alternative to public schools. Instead of dismantling entire programs because of state deficit woes, private schools are expanding curricula and keeping student/teacher ratios in check. While public schools by law have to accept all students, including those with discipline problems and learning disabilities, private schools can pick and choose students and thus have more control over their academic standards and environment.
Tuition in many private and secular schools continues to rise, but enrollment continues to rise with it.
At St. Margaret’s Elementary, an Episcopalian school in San Juan Capistrano, tuition can be as much as $6,000, the equivalent of some college payments. The fee does not include field trips, uniforms, or books.
Still, Alana Porter and her husband, who are not Episcopalian, will be footing the high cost of sending their first-grader and eighth-grader to the school this fall, and their 2-year-old son is on the preschool waiting list.
Like non-Episcopalian students at St. Margaret’s, those who attend Morasha Jewish Day school in Mission Viejo do not necessarily practice the school’s religion, said Chaim Heller, Morasha’s director. And as at other private schools, enrollment at Morasha has been increasing.
The school, which rents space from Temple Eilat, started five years ago with 22 children. Next fall it will have 130 students from kindergarten to the seventh grade.
While parents appreciate the religious aspects of the school, they also pay close attention to the smaller class size and the individual attention that is provided by the teachers, Heller said.
“We simply individualize the students’ lessons,” Heller said. “Slower kids get tutoring, smarter students are allowed to go on ahead.”