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How Much Does Elementary School Cost?

Last Updated on February 20, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Sending a child to elementary school involves a variety of expenses for families. From tuition fees to textbooks to after-school activities, the costs can quickly add up. However, with proper planning and budgeting, parents can find ways to lower the financial burden of elementary education.

How Much Does Elementary School Cost?

The cost of public elementary school ranges from $500 to $2,000 per year, while private elementary school costs often exceed $10,000 per year. With extras like supplies, uniforms, activities, and lunches, parents spend several hundred to over $1,000 annually per child for public or private elementary education.

One of the biggest factors in total elementary school costs is whether the child attends public or private school.

On average, the total annual cost for public elementary schools ranges from $500 to $2,000 per student, depending on local fees and expenses. This makes public school one of the most affordable options for most families. Public schools are funded through local taxes and state and federal budgets. They typically do not charge tuition fees. However, some public schools may charge fees for specific programs, such as full-day kindergarten.

Private elementary schools charge tuition and fees. The average annual tuition at private elementary schools ranges from $5,000 to over $25,000 per year, with the national average around $9,638. Costs vary widely depending on the school. For example, top preparatory schools often charge over $30,000 per year for elementary grades.

Factors that affect private school tuition rates include:

  • Location – Urban and suburban schools often cost more than rural schools
  • School size and offerings – Schools with more amenities and programs tend to be pricier
  • Religious affiliation – Catholic schools tend to have lower tuition on average than non-religious private schools

For high-income families, private school may be manageable. But for middle- and low-income families, the tuition can be prohibitive. Some private schools offer financial assistance and scholarships to help make the costs more affordable.

According to the website Majority.com, the average cost of one year of private school in the US is $7,770 for elementary school, and up to $13,000 for high schools.

For children attending public elementary school parents can expect to spend a total of $1,017 up to $12,035, while for children attending private school, parents can expect to spend a total of $8,787 up to $19,781, according to GradePower Learning.

Additional School-Related Expenses

Aside from tuition, parents need to budget for many other schooling expenses. Here are some of the biggest categories:

School Supplies

Outfitting a child with all the necessary supplies for elementary school can cost anywhere from $100 to $250 per year, depending on the grade level. Typical supplies include:

  • Backpacks – $15 to $75
  • Notebooks and folders – $10 to $25
  • Pens, pencils, markers – $10 to $20
  • Glue sticks, scissors – $5 to $15
  • Rulers, protractors – $2 to $10
  • Calculators – $10 to $40

The costs are highest in early elementary grades. Parents can save money by buying supplies in bulk, shopping sales and generic brands, and reusing items year to year.

School Uniforms

Many public and private elementary schools require students to wear school uniforms. On average, parents spend $150 to $350 per year on uniform pieces like shirts, pants, dresses, and sweaters. To save, buy high-quality pieces that can be handed down to younger siblings. Shop sales and buy extras while sizes are on clearance.

You might also like our articles on the cost of trade school, HVAC school, or dental assistant school.

Extracurricular Activities

Participating in clubs, sports, and other activities often involves fees. For example, a spot on a travel soccer team can cost $500 to $1,000 per season. More affordable options like intramural sports may charge $50 to $150. Schools waive fees for low-income families.

School Lunches

Buying lunch at school costs around $2 to $4 per meal. For a student buying lunch every day, the annual cost is $500 or more. Packing lunches from home is more economical for many families.

Budgeting and Saving

Here are some tips to manage the costs of elementary education:

  • Set up a dedicated savings account or education fund to help pay for expenses
  • Take advantage of back-to-school sales on supplies and uniforms
  • Buy used textbooks, instruments, and other gear when possible
  • Limit extracurricular activities to one per season
  • Apply for scholarships, aid programs, and payment plans at private schools
  • Use pre-tax dependent care savings accounts for after-school care costs
  • Participate in fundraising drives and reward programs at schools
  • Join parent groups to take advantage of discounts and bulk purchasing opportunities

With planning, research, and smart shopping, parents can reduce the annual cost of elementary education by hundreds of dollars per school year.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Education Style Elementary SchoolFor low-income families, financial aid and scholarships can make private elementary school more affordable.

Need-based financial aid provides tuition discounts to families who demonstrate economic need. Aid may cover 25% to nearly 100% of tuition. Parents should contact private schools directly about aid options.

Scholarships help reduce tuition costs based on criteria like academic excellence, athletic or artistic talent, religious affiliation, ethnicity, and more. Local businesses, foundations, religious groups, and civic organizations offer scholarships for elementary students.

Public schools help low-income students by waiving fees and providing free or reduced-price lunches and transportation services. Search for “education grants + your state/district” for information on aid programs for supplies, activities, and academic support.

Long-Term Planning for Education Costs

One way families can prepare for the considerable costs of elementary and further education is to open a 529 College Savings Plan. Parents can deposit money into an account that accrues tax-free interest to be used for education expenses. Some states even offer tax deductions.

While originally intended for college, 529 plans can now be used for elementary and secondary education expenses too.

Final Words

The cost of sending a child to elementary school varies widely based on public or private status, location, services, and more. Careful budgeting, shopping sales, applying for financial aid, and utilizing pre-tax savings plans can help families manage and reduce costs.

The investment in a quality elementary education yields invaluable benefits for a child’s future success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between tuition fees and school fees?

Tuition fees refer to the cost of academic instruction at a private school. This covers the operating costs and teachers’ salaries. School fees are additional charges not directly related to academics, such as fees for sports, technology, transportation, lunches, books, supplies, activities, registration, etc.

Public schools do not charge tuition but may charge school fees.

Do students have to pay tuition fees?

Students who attend public schools do not have to pay tuition fees since school funding comes from local, state, and federal taxes. Students at private schools must pay tuition fees that cover the cost of instruction and operations. The annual national average is around $9,600 for private elementary tuition.

Is public school free in the USA?

Yes, public school is free in the sense that K-12 students are not charged tuition fees for attending. Public education is funded through tax dollars.

However, many public schools charge additional school fees or program fees that parents must pay for items like activities, lunches, transportation, supplies, sports, special electives, etc. On average these fees are a few hundred dollars annually.

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