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The Difference Between Public Preschools and Private Preschools

Updated on August 27, 2015

The Debate Heard 'Round the School Yard

The other day I got into a debate with my husband about the much-debated private versus public school system. A private school student until the eighth grade, I argued for the private school column, while my husband, a public school student his entire life, fought in favor of the public domain. The debate lasted for some time, each of us coming up with more valuable and insightful points in favor of each, leaving us ultimately in favor for each, which confused us even more.

“You learn better values!” I argued.

“I have the same values!” He replied.

He was right, of course, in very few ways do his beliefs and values differ from my own, meaning that a host of valuable lessons I learned throughout my childhood were very little—if any—different from his own. The argument ended when I succinctly explained to him that despite everything, the private school system I enjoyed had one thing that the public school system did not: uniforms. He couldn’t argue there.

In the end, we were left right where we began, which is to say that we were left knowing little else than when we started. Aside from my quip about uniforms, I had very few researched points to back up my claim, while he in turn had little to back his up as well. That night my head raced with the conversation of the day, as I racked my brain for what I should have said to make him see my point of view.

The verdict? I came up empty.

It’s an argument touted in sandboxes across the world, and while most parents have distinctly one view or another on either, I was raised in a household that straddled the party line. While I went to public school exclusively for my younger education, my younger brother went to public, transferring to a private charter for his high school years. This has left me with a healthy appreciation for each side, noting that in each case my brother and I seemed to have turned out all right.

Though I'm able to see the benefit to both sides, it's my belief that the information should be made readily available to those looking to make a decision about their child's education.

What side do you take in the private preschool vs public preschool debate?

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As with most things in this life, the act of choosing a school for your toddler will come down to money. Public school systems, even at the preschool level, cannot require you to pay a monthly tuition for your child, meaning that they are able to attend for free. Because their funding comes from state and national sources, they are unable to ask for money from parents to keep their program running. This also means, that the public preschool’s already limited sources will fluctuate heavily with the political and economic tides of the country. Additionally, by drawing from a large pool of funds shared between public schools, public preschools can find themselves with limited educational resources to expel upon their students, as well as a larger class size.

In contrast, private preschools are privately funded (whoddathunk) and require tuition for each of their students. Funds are generated most commonly through fundraising events, the community, and—if the school is religious—church groups. To parents thinking of where best to send their kid, this often accrues a large amount of dollar signs in their heads, leaving them unwilling or unable to pay for private school programs. These days, however, schools offer financial aid and scholarships to help with the funding for your child’s preschool. Yet, as with public schools, with the bad comes the good. Because private schools rely on funding from private sources, they are not required to abide by some of the more stringent laws that surround public schools. For this reason, private schools have a tendency to be specialized (whether in the sciences, languages, or something else), giving your toddler a specialty early on in life.

the School

Once you’ve made the decision of whether or not you can afford a private school, you’re left to decide which of the two has the best education available for your toddler. Public preschool teachers and beyond, for example, will have been state certified to teach specific grade levels and/or subjects. In contrast, private schools, not having to abide by the same rules as the state, often do not have certification, relying on their degree to fulfill their position and duties. However, for this reason, private schools are able to develop their own set of guidelines for their school to follow, often resulting in a more rigorous and challenging course load for students, preparing them for a better higher education.

Another factor to consider while deciding between public and private preschools are the class sizes. While the state has made an effort at the preschool level to keep class sizes small, in later elementary school classes and beyond, classes increase exponentially at the public school curriculum. Private schools, in contrast, try to limit class sizes for their students to allow that the maximum benefits are received all the way from preschool to the high school levels.


If you thought your child was too young to be thrust into the throng of admissions, you’d be wrong. Beginning at the preschool level, private schools often must admit your child to their school before they can attend. This usually involves interviews and testing to determine where they’re at and if they’ll be capable of keeping up with the private school curriculum. At the preschool level, they often interview the child and parents, seeing if the child would make a good addition to the school.

Conversely, public schools are obligated to take each student, provided that you are able to produce a bill proving your address. This allows for added convenience to the parents as they do not have to worry about applications and admissions standards, or whether or not their child will receive an education.


Depending on where you live, you’ll want to either consider a private or public school system for your child. New York City, for example, famously boasts a less than stellar public school system, leaving most parents vying for admission into the private preschools years in advance. In a similar sense, growing up in San Diego, a large city in itself, means that the education system varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. While public schools in central San Diego have a tendency toward less than desirable school systems, those in the northern half can be much nicer, providing as great of an education as their private school counterparts. In contrast, San Diego boasts several great private preschools, allowing for great education at a variety of prices. Do your research prior to making any decisions, or reach out and contact your local private or public preschool to discuss what their enrollment guidelines would mean for your child.

The Debate Rages On

By the time I was ready to enter my first year of high school, it became my decision for where I wanted to go. I chose the public school up the street from my house, rather than continuing my education with the private school I’d grown accustomed to some fifteen miles away. In contrast, my husband, who grew up going to one of the less than desirable public preschools, wound up moving further north, giving him a better education in a better public school district. Each case, however, whether public or private, boasts a pretty okay ending: I, with my masters from USC, and my husband with his PhD in neuroscience. In most cases, it seems to come down to the individual parents and kids, leaving this debate still up in the air. No matter private or public, the ultimate goal is a bright education, giving your toddler the best future available to them.


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    • Kelsey Farrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelsey Elise Farrell 

      4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      That's a great point. Some public schools really know how to put their finances to use, while others do a less than stellar job. A student's success, even from a young age, should always be the top priority.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Kelsey. I generally come down on the side of the public schools but it also comes down to how well the public school is run and financed. If a public school is not being run well and the students are falling behind, I would seek other options. otherwise I would choose the local public school.,


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