Paying for Private School

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Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

It’s hard to put a price on a quality, independent-school education, and, yet, in recent years, Hawaii’s families have had to do just that. But as many parents and educators will tell you, sending your child to private school pays dividends. Here, we explore the wide range of financial options available to help families afford their private-school dreams.

Lately, it’s become all too clear that money does not grow on trees, job security is not a sure bet and everything we thought we knew about investing was, for the most part, wrong. So we save for the proverbial rainy day, maybe work an extra job or two, all in an effort to keep a roof over our families’ heads and, for many here in Hawaii, to ensure that our children continue to receive top-notch, private-school educations.

“You learn to live on a budget,” says Lisa Currie, a single mom whose 11-year-old daughter attends Honolulu Waldorf School. “I know where my money is coming from and where it’s going to. I have debt, but I’m not going to sacrifice her education for that. If you feel the best place for your child is a private school, then you owe it to your child to send them there, because they only have one childhood.”

Currie, who takes advantage of tuition assistance offered by her daughter’s school, felt that Honolulu Waldorf was the best possible fit, and decided to make it happen, even though paying the $10,000-plus annual tuition was daunting at first. “Her piano teacher had suggested Waldorf,” says Currie. “And I said, ‘I don’t have the money for that,’ but I had started a new job around that time, and I thought, if I get financial aid, I can squeeze it out. It’s been an incredible, wonderful journey … As a single parent, you have to find a place with an ohana that can help support you and your child.” As Lisa Currie’s story demonstrates, and as many who have been through the process will tell you, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and as long as parents are proactive and open about locating and accepting tuition assistance, whether it’s need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships or tuition payment plans or loans, there’s help to be had. 

For Lisa Currie, a single mom, tuition assistance made it possible to enroll her daughter in private school.

Photo: Rae Huo

The Rundown

With 124 licensed independent schools, Hawaii offers an abundance of options for families looking to find the right schools for their children. Each school is different: There are nonsecular and secular options ranging from Catholic to Buddhist; schools that cater to gifted or special-needs children; and schools that focus on specific programs, such as performing arts, technology and environmental stewardship. While a private-school education doesn’t come free, it probably won’t cost as much as you think. Approximately 65 percent of Hawaii’s independent schools charge less than $9,000 per year for tuition, with 43 schools costing less than $6,000 a year. A few schools cost upwards of $15,000 annually, but the substantial range between the highest annual tuition at a standard K-12 school ($19,200 for grades 9-12 at Hawaii Preparatory Academy) and the lowest ($3,400 at Koolau Baptist Academy) means there’s a lot of financial wiggle room.

When shopping around, it helps to keep your options open. “[Parents] should apply to a variety of schools,” says Kathy Lee, Hawaii Baptist Academy’s director of admissions. “And if money is going to be a big factor, look at schools of all different tuition prices so that, in the end, they have several good options.” That said, you want to be sure to find the right fit for you and your child, which may mean that the cheaper school isn’t necessarily the better school for you.

“[The tuition] is terrifying,” says Laura Brown, whose two sons, Adrian and Ray, have attended or are currently enrolled at ASSETS School, a school for gifted or dyslexic children. “You look at your budget and say, ‘There’s absolutely no way our family can do it.’ But the minute you experience it, there’s absolutely no way you can’t afford it. You can’t believe the difference until you get your kid in there.”