Obamas Choose Sidwell Friends School

November 22, 2008

The Obama’s have chosen to send their two daughters to Sidwell Friends School, which is a great school and the same one that Chelsea Clinton attended. Sidwell has a lower and upper school campuses they offer Quaker education from K through High School. The other Quaker school in town is the School for Friends preschool which offers early childhood education through pre-K, also.

Our children attend/attended School for Friends and I can’t say enough good things about School for Friends and its director Jim Clay. It is a wonderful place where children blossom. I’m told that Sidwell is also a great school. There’s just one major difference. Sidwell is an “elite” school and the tuition is eye-popping.

Last year we were looking at kindergartens for our older daughter. Our local in-district public school is deplorable on every level. We looked at private school programs and were shocked at the expense. Sidwell topped the list at roughly $26,000/yr plus the expectation of donations. Sidwell is setting the trend. Other schools have tuition within 10% of the ceiling set by Sidwell. The really frightening thing is that tuition prices are rising at about 10% a year, well above the rate of inflation and certainly faster than our salaries could possibly increase. This year the tuition to the lower school is $28,500 and for the upper school it is $29,500. “Aftercare” programs are additional. If you and your spouse/partner have jobs that will not allow you to pick up your children at 3pm then factor in another $10,000 – $15,000.

In DC, the real estate prices are so high that a small three bedroom 16,000 square foot town house is a minimum of $450,000 in a bad neighborhood and more likely $600,000 to $800,000. That translates into mortgage payments of $3,000 to $5,000 per month. Sending one child to a private school like Sidwell amounts to payments of about $3,000 per month. Two children, is $6,000. For a family with two children, that’s about $10,000 per month just for housing and school. That’s $120,000 after taxes which requires a combined pre-tax salary of $160,000 just to pay for school and housing. We haven’t taken into account health/life insurance, car payments, fuel, utilities, food, clothing or entertainment. Let’s peg those items at a minimum of $3000 per month at DC prices or $36,000 per year.

Basically in order to send two kids to private school while living in DC, you have a household income of over $200,000 per year. Even that number is optimistic because it means that you have zero savings for anything, including retirement. If, like the vast majority of DC residents, you make less than $200,000 and you cannot get your children into one of the good public schools, then you have no choice but to leave the city. The deplorable state of DC public schools and the impressive expense of private schools are forcing a steady exodus of young and talented families from the city out to Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, MD.

I had a small hope that if the Obamas put their children into a public school, then it would have put wind into the sails of public school reform, but that clearly isn’t going to happen.

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