RALEIGH — A $5,000 scholarship would cover the yearly tuition of the average private elementary day school in North Carolina, while $6,000 would take care of average high school tuition. Those are two key facts collected in a new John Locke Foundation Policy Report assessing a first-of-its-kind survey of the state’s private schools.
“Since the average per pupil expenditure in the North Carolina public schools totaled $9,370 in 2007-08, it’s good to have information to make cost comparisons with the state’s private school options,” said report author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “Better information about North Carolina’s private schools is the first step toward persuading legislators to increase educational options for North Carolina families.”
Parents need the information as well, Stoops said. “North Carolina families are beginning to recognize that finding alternatives to public schools may be the only way to guarantee that children receive a quality education.”
The JLF survey aimed to gather and analyze data on private schools that generally have not been available to the public, Stoops said. Questions covered academics, the student population, personnel, finances, and private school leaders’ attitudes about school choice. “The survey and this new report mark first steps in a larger effort to correct decades-old misconceptions and prejudices about private schools.”
North Carolina had 683 private schools enrolling more than 97,000 students in the 2007-08 school year, according to the report. “Even during the recent recession, the state’s private schools added nearly 1,000 students in 2008-09,” Stoops said. “Despite fluctuations in the economy, growth in private school enrollment has been steady. It’s increased by 16 percent in the last decade, while the number of private schools has increased by 9 percent. Today private school students make up about 6 percent of all students in North Carolina enrolled in K-12 education.”
Representatives from 117 private schools responded to Stoops’ questionnaire. “We found that the average class size in these schools was 14 students, and none of the private schools reported a class size of more than 30 students,” he said. “Total school enrollment ranged from four to 942, with an average enrollment of 198 students.”
About two-thirds of the survey respondents reported that their schools served students with learning differences and disabilities, Stoops said. “Just as important, 50 percent of the respondents said that they had the ability to enroll more students with learning differences or disabilities.”
The average private school surveyed had an on-site, full-time staff of 28 people, Stoops said. “On average, 20 of those staff members were teachers,” he said. “Private school administrators look for teachers with a college degree, professional or teaching experience, and strong recommendations from previous employers. Unlike public schools, private school administrators don’t treat state certification as a barrier to stop qualified individuals from teaching in a private school.”
The average annual tuition for a private elementary day school, as opposed to a boarding school, was $4,889. For middle schools, the average was $5,410; the average was $5,916 for high schools. Fees and other nontuition expenses averaged $403. “Recognizing that some families have difficulty paying for fees and tuition, over two-thirds of all private schools surveyed offered financial aid,” Stoops said.
Private school leaders generally supported increased school choice options for families, Stoops said. “More than 86 percent of respondents would support a voucher program that would pay the full tuition amount, and none of the private schools surveyed would oppose a tax credit program that would cover part or the entire tuition amount,” he said. “Nearly 85 percent of private schools would support a program that would provide a voucher to the families of targeted categories of students.”
Potential government interference raised some concerns for survey respondents, Stoops said. “About 70 percent of private schools said they would not enroll children whose families received public funds if it meant that the state would increase oversight of their school,” he said. “More than half of the respondents would not enroll children whose families received public funds if the state compelled the school to administer state achievement tests.”
Respondents “strongly opposed” the idea of abandoning admissions standards in exchange for enrolling children of families receiving vouchers or tax credits, and most respondents opposed any voucher or tax credit plan that would force schools to abandon religious activities, Stoops said. “Private religious schools were much less willing to accept government regulation or oversight than private schools with no religious affiliation.”
The “impressive” growth of North Carolina’s private schools is no accident, Stoops said. “They remain affordable, diverse educational institutions that strive to cultivate academic, spiritual, and personal excellence in all students,” he said. “Regrettably, our elected leaders have chosen to deny poor and middle-class children the means to attend these institutions based upon an allegiance to an outdated, 19th-century educational model. As a state, we can do better.”
Terry Stoops’ Policy Report, “Building a Case for School Choice: Initial Results from a Survey of North Carolina’s Private Schools,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].