$5,000 Voucher Would Open Most School Doors

Published November 1, 2003

A new Cato Institute survey of private schools in six large- and mid-sized American cities reveals a large majority of private elementary schools charge $5,000 or less per student per year. Although most private secondary schools charged more than $5,000, in each city there were secondary schools that charged less.

The new findings are in line with figures reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, which indicate the average private school tuition in the U.S. in 1999-2000 was less than $5,000 for all schools ($4,689), less than $3,500 for elementary schools ($3,267), and more than $5,000 for secondary schools ($6,052).

Survey of Private School Tuition
City Per-Pupil Spending:
Public Schools
Median Tuition:
Private Elementary Schools
Median Tuition:
Private Secondary Schools
New Orleans $5,797 $2,386 $3,895
Charleston, SC $6,701 $3,153 $4,056
Houston $7,089 $4,325 $6,150
Philadelphia $8,303 $2,504 $4,310
Denver $9,919 $3,528 $5,995
Washington, DC $11,009 $4,500 $16,075*
* Median tuition in neighboring counties of Maryland and Virginia is $6,920
Source: Cato Institute

“Since average per-pupil spending for public schools is now $8,830, most states could offer a voucher amount even greater than $5,000 and still realize substantial savings,” said David F. Salisbury, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

“Even a poor child armed with a voucher of $5,000 could obtain a quality private education in any of the cities [covered in the survey],” he said.

Salisbury conducted the survey of private schools in Charleston, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. The results are reported in “What Does a Voucher Buy? A Closer Look at Private Schools.”

The survey shows there are many private school options already available to families who have $5,000 to spend on their child’s education. For example, in New Orleans only 7 percent of elementary schools charged more than $5,000, and in Philadelphia only 11 percent charged more than $5,000.

“A voucher or tax credit of $5,000 or more per student would give families the clout they need as consumers,” concluded Salisbury. “There are already many affordable high-quality private schools on the market, and, once they are allowed to compete on a level playing field with government schools, many more will come into operation.”

Although private school seats may not at first be widely available, Salisbury points out school choice programs launch a dynamic process that results in the creation of additional private school options for students. Evidence from voucher programs in Milwaukee and Florida shows the number of private schools and the capacities of existing private schools both increase as school choice becomes more widespread.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The August 2003 Cato Policy Analysis by David F. Salisbury, “What Does a Voucher Buy? A Closer Look at the Cost of Private Schools,” is available from the Cato Institute Web site at http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa486.pdf.

Contact, enrollment, and other information about individual private schools in the United States may be obtained through the U.S. Department of Education’s Private School Locator, which is available at the Web site of the National Center for Education Statistics http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pss/privateschoolsearch.

Estimates of private school tuition by level and type of school for 1999-2000, reported on page 3 of the Cato Institute report, are from Table 61 of the Digest of Education Statistics, 2002, which is available at the Web site of the National Center for Education Statistics at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003060b.pdf.