Niche Resources

Key Differences Between Public and Private K-12 Schools

What are the differences in public and private education? Is one better than another? How do I know which is right for my child? 


Getting a good education is, without question, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your kids. So where will that learning take place? Here are the differences between a private and public setting in schools. 





The biggest difference between public and private schools is from where they receive funding. Public schools receive funding from local, state, and federal governments. Residents and businesses pay school taxes so that the youth in their community is well-educated. Private schools rely mainly on students’ tuition for funds. Private schools can also receive donations and grants to pay their bills. Because they don’t rely on state funding, private schools are less affected by politics, making their budgets more consistent and predictable. 




Public school teachers must receive certification to teach in a public school. Certification requirements vary by state. Additionally, most states and school districts require teachers to continue education or receive ongoing professional development credits after certification. Most religiously affiliated private schools do not require teachers to be state certified. Schools can, however, recommend their teachers receive certification. In some cases, faculty at private schools can be experts in their field or hold a doctorate degree. This will vary by school, so be sure to do some research on a private school’s faculty. 

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Admissions and Student Body


Another difference worth mentioning is admissions. Public schools must admit all students regardless of family income, special needs, religion, etc. Private schools can be more selective. Some private schools might require an admissions test to get in.  Student body populations at private schools may be all boys or all girls. Performing arts schools may require an audition. For this reason, private schools can usually keep class sizes smaller if they have a selective admissions process. Some parents like the demographics that a private school can provide while others want the more diverse population of a public school.


By law, public schools must accommodate students with special needs and make every attempt to educate them in the least restrictive environment. A portion of the funding that public schools receive is specifically reserved for special needs services. Public schools employ teachers who are specifically certified to work with differently-abled students. Private schools will often be accommodating to students’ needs, but can recommend that special needs students look elsewhere for education. A few private schools are designed to specialize in meeting the needs of differently-abled students. 


Religious Affiliation


Public schools, by law, may not be affiliated with any one religion. Because they receive tax money, they must maintain “separation of church and state.” Many public high schools may offer classes in world cultures or world religions, but the curriculum must remain strictly informative and not promote one religion over another. Because they do not receive state funding, private schools may affiliate themselves with a certain religion. A private school, on the other hand, may offer and sometimes even mandate religious classes based on religious affiliation. In certain schools, practicing that religion can be a requirement for admission. 


So Which One do I Choose?


The choice of private or public will depend upon your family’s needs and wants. Some families want their child to receive religious education daily and want that to come from school. Some parents believe that religion is best learned at home or in a place of worship and not a school. Some parents like the homogeneous group of students one may find in a private school, while others like the diversity of peers present at most public schools. A child’s musical inclination, interest in STEM, or talent at sports can also influence a family’s decision. Make a list of what is important to you and your learner and then do your research. Peruse the websites of available schools and check out their reviews and ratings on their Niche profiles and make sure that whatever institution you choose will be a good match for your family. 

Author: Anne DeGerolamo

Anne DeGerolamo is a chocoholic, bookworm, and mom of two. Because of her immense love of grammar, by day, she works as a middle school language arts teacher. She earned a degree in writing and a master's in education. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her family. Anne's words to live by are, "Be kind. Eat chocolate."