Ahhhh, PCS season. Boxes, trucks and general chaos are everywhere. If you have school-age children, it’s also time to find your next awesome school.
While the military will tell you when and where to go, finding a school is almost 100% on you. There are a lot of choices out there, but the first step to finding the perfect school is to narrow down your choices.
Public or Private?
This is the first main question to tackle. Let’s walk through the basics about both public and private schools to help get you started.
Every county, city, and town have public school systems. They are organized differently in different locations, usually by county, parish, town or region. Most districts will have three to four levels of schools: primary (PK-2), elementary (K-5/6), middle (5/6-8), high (9-12). These different groupings will be spread across three to four different buildings
Some districts have many primary and elementary schools, several middle schools, and one or two large high schools. Other districts have one school for each level.
Public schools are just that: publicly funded schools. These schools are free to attend and do not require tuition. In order to attend a specific school, families must live in that district or obtain a waiver to attend.
They must comply with state or local learning standards. There are very specific topics to be covered at each level. Students in these schools will be required to take state or national standardized tests at certain grade levels.
Larger public school districts often have more overall funding. Often this means that students in these districts will have access to a wide variety of academic enrichment options (AP, Odyssey of the Mind, STEM), clubs and sports.
Students in smaller public schools will also get a wide variety of academic programs, sports and clubs. However, the smaller funding pool might mean slightly fewer options, especially for the “extras.”
Larger districts have more students with possibly larger class sizes. Smaller districts can be more personal, with smaller classes and fewer students.
There are private schools located all over the country serving a variety of purposes. Schools can range from religious to secular and use a variety of curriculum. Families do not need to live in specific areas in order to attend a particular school. Parents will more than likely need to provide their own transportation.
Different states require different levels of accreditation and certifications in order for a school to operate legally. Teachers in private schools in some states are required to hold state level certifications. In many locations, only a teaching degree is required.
Each school operates using it’s own academic standards, usually based on state or national standards. Schools could use a religious curriculum and materials supplied by their guiding denomination or faith. Secular schools may use “mainstream” curriculum from major education publishers.
Private schools are tuition based schools. There may be a sliding scale tuition schedule or scholarships. Each school sets their own tuition rate and calculates fees for materials and extracurricular activities. These can range from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars each year. Average private school costs vary by school, state and region.
Many private schools require uniforms to attend, but may not provide these as part of their fees. Purchasing uniforms is another expense to consider.
Students at private schools will have many of the same options as students in public schools. They will have access to sports, clubs and academic enrichment. However, the variety and cost of programs available is based on school size and financial resources.
While there are private schools that will provide special education services, many private schools will not have the resources or experience to effectively teach students with exceptional education needs.
How To Choose
Honestly, this comes down to your family’s preferences and needs.
Families that are very religious might opt for private schools in order to incorporate their beliefs into education.
You might also choose private schools if their values system aligns closely with yours, if they offer smaller class sizes compared to public schools or if they are better rated than local public schools.
Families considering private schools should also factor in the total cost of attendance. This includes tuition, fees, uniforms and transportation.
Finally, take into account any special academic considerations your child might experience. Many schools are able to work with students who are slightly behind or who are gifted. However, it can become more difficult for students with large academic achievement gaps or complex educational or support needs. This is something to discuss with prospective private schools before you enroll.
Families who do have students with IEPs or 504 Plans often choose public schools due to the availability of services. Another factor might be the academic programs, sports or clubs available at private schools.
Since public schools are tuition free, cost can also be a factor in attendance.
Many local public schools and private schools are of equally high caliber in terms of academics and opportunity.
One of the best ways to make your final decision is to compare possible schools side-by-side using the School Comparison Worksheet.
How do you decide on a school after your PCS? Tell us in the comments!
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About the Author
Meg Flanagan, founder of MilKids Ed, is a teacher, mom and military spouse. She is dedicated to making the K-12 education experience easier for military families. Meg regularly writes for MilitaryOneClick, Military Shoppers, The Military Wife & Mom and NextGen MilSpouse. You can find Meg, and MilKids, online on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.