From public to private school: How families are making it affordable

HOUSTON – When public schools kept students online with abrupt, unscheduled closures, many private schools were able to keep classes more stable. In Texas, 53% of independent schools have reported that enrollment has increased since the pandemic started.

We wondered how so many families were able to make the switch financially.

Bellaire mother of two Charity Zemzous heard how private school Lutheran High North handled the pandemic and school in general. It was music to her ears.

With smaller class sizes, sports, and extracurricular activities that continued over the last year, Zemzous says her 17-year-old son Noah has thrived in his junior year.

“He really enjoys the small classes,” she said. “He gets to know the students, gets to know the teachers and has really been happy there.”

Enrollment at Lutheran High North on the north side near Garden Oaks grew by 15% this school year.

“Probably every private school would say that this has been a nice boon for them,” said Lutheran High North principal Dana Gerard.

Gerard has seen enrollment increase and decline in his 37 years at LHN, but he said the pandemic caused families who had never before considered private school to take a look.

“It’s like small town in the middle of a big city,” he said. “And we love having that experience and offering that experience to families.”

The total student population at LHN is 112. There is more than enough room on campus for students to social distance in the classroom.

Gerard said the physical classroom is where many students who transferred from public schools needed to be.

“The reason for that was they were struggling with the whole online experience,” he explained.

For many families considering private school, the struggle is a financial one; but the National Association of Independent Schools says 57% of schools, or 3 in 5, have created emergency grant funds for families affected by COVID. A total of 37% of independent schools Increased their financial aid budgets for the 2020-21 school year.

“Reach out. Apply. Go through that application process and then go through the process of applying for that assistance,” Gerard said.

Tuition at LHN is $16,700 a year, but the school offers assistance based on need. Other private schools have a tiered payment system where tuition is based on income.

A drop in the number of international students has played a role in enrollment this year too. Travel restrictions and other challenges mean about 16% fewer international students in U.S. schools this school year and last. It may be worth your time to reach out to those campuses that usually have a lot of international students. They may have more spots and financial aid available right now.

Private school for low-income families

Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School, located by Hobby Airport, is a private, Catholic school (accepting all faiths) that exclusively educates students from low-income families. Students work one day a week at major corporations, starting in the 9th grade, to earn work experience and to help pay half of their tuition. Their remaining tuition is paid through donations, fundraisers, and a minimal fee from parents (from $25 to $300 a month). Cristo Rey currently has 528 students attending its school.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.