Pulling My Child From Private School Has Made Me A Richer And Poorer Person

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private school vs publicIn the past couple of months, I have become a bitter rich person. Not Mitt Romney or Mark Zuckerberg rich, but rich in the sense that I am probably better off than maybe 90% of people worldwide. By New York City standards, I’m pretty squarely middle-class though, I think, but within my little Brooklyn private-school community, that’s just not rich enough.

This is my issue, of course. Although it feels like it’s an issue for lots of other people, too. I want to preface this post by saying that everything that follows falls under the umbrella of “white people problems,” as one (presumably rich-ish) private-school mom told me at a 5-year-old princess birthday party recently, where the host had made from scratch a castle cake worthy of Walt Disney himself.

Our daughter has attended preschool for the last two years at a private, reputable school that continues through middle school. The tuition for the first year ($14,000) seemed expensive, but sort of manageable when both my partner and I had full-time paychecks. The second year’s tuition was already half paid (and all committed to) when I lost my job at a major corporation. I transitioned into contract work and cobbled together a pretty good living for the first year.

The second year of contract work hasn’t been quite as fruitful. And while we were on the fence about continuing with private school for our daughter, who will enter kindergarten this September, we always had entertained the hope that she’d switch to public school eventually. Meanwhile, we also have a son who will be 3 this summer, and who we’d hoped would go to preschool for 3s, presumably the same school his sister attends.

When it came time to pay the deposit, nearly $5,000, to reserve my daughter’s place in kindergarten for the fall, I had had a particularly dry couple of months financially, and it felt less and less realistic to be able to pay the $29,000 tuition for her for kindergarten. We applied for financial aid, and based on last year’s (good year!) tax returns, were denied. My partner felt very strongly that we couldn’t afford the tuition on the income so far this year, and felt partial to public school anyway. I think most people in our situation – choosing between this private school and public school alternatives for their 4- to 5-year-olds – opted to pay the five grand as insurance, and then roll the dice to see what cheaper options might be attractive.

The deposit was more money than I had made so far that year, and it just felt like bad life management to pay out, as a maybe, more than I had brought in. Largely on principle, and partly on realistic parameters of our finances, we didn’t pay the deposit.

The school inquired about our daughter’s status, and we reported the truth. The school administration was very understanding, but in no uncertain terms told us that our son would not receive sibling preference for admission, because our daughter was not considered enrolled for the next school year. Even though I understood the school’s position in maintaining the growth of the school and pursuing families who can support the school financially, it felt like a fuck you; it became clear that community is secondary to income, which of course, I was naive not to assume from the get-go – but it somehow feels counter to what you want in a preschool-oriented educational institution , especially after being active members of the community for two years.

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