Public school enrollment is falling. Why some parents choose private education.

1925: The right to send children to private and parochial schools

The pandemic transformed the landscape of K-12 education. Some parents withdrew their kids from public school and placed them into private or home schools. Their reasons varied: Many preferred private schools that offered in-person instruction; others distrusted public schools’ pandemic precautions.

It’s not clear whether those trends will stick, and the factors are complex. So far, data show that since 2019, private enrollment is up, public enrollment is down and home schooling has become more popular. Families flocked to private and home schools at the greatest rate in a decade, according to American Community Survey estimates from the U.S. Census. The government projects that K-12 public school enrollment — already facing demographic pressures — will drop further to about 46 million students by fall 2030, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, reversing decades of growth.

The Washington Post Magazine asked parents why they chose private or home schooling, and what the right to control their child’s education means to them. In written responses, many parents said they believed their child’s special needs or abilities were best served in a private school. Others thought public schools focused too much on teaching to standardized tests and not enough on social and emotional learning. Still others wanted to raise their children in the tradition of their faith — the sort of decision at the core of Pierce v. Society of Sisters.

Responses have been edited and condensed.

Daphna Venyige

50, Los Angeles

I send my children to private Jewish school because I want them to learn on a deep level about our people’s history, religious customs, culture, prayers, foods, music and melodies, and core values and ethics.

I feel fortunate to be able to pay for my children’s Jewish education. The right to determine their education means that I can give them a deep sense of who they are and where they come from. Whether they choose our religion or not in the future, I’m comforted by the fact that they will always know their ancestral story.

Jason Sampler

46, Kennesaw, Ga.

My wife and I are products of public school and loved our time there. We chose private religious school for a few reasons. First, we are very committed to our religious convictions. Our children memorize Bible verses each week; administrators and teachers use every opportunity to show how the Bible informs our lives (when we make good and bad decisions). Second, we love that our school partners with us in education. They see themselves as helpers of a parent’s obligation to train children. So we work in tandem to best meet each child’s needs. Third, we love the actual pedagogical method employed at our school, which differs substantially from public school.

Nevena Georgieva

44, Homer Glen, Ill.

I looked at public schools. She was supposed to go to five different schools from 3 to 13 years old. Who has the time to deal with that? It is too much stress for the parent and for the kid. At her Montessori school she goes from 3 to 13 years old in the same building, with the same principal, the same rules, the same traditions. It’s a small school, so we know all the teachers, kids and parents. It’s a tightknit community. Plus, I am hoping for no school shootings.

Michelle Chang

44, Fairfax, Va.

We enrolled our children in private school due to the pandemic. I could see my then-rising second-grader’s mental health and ability to absorb info were negatively impacted. We would have returned to that public school but wound up moving during the pandemic and decided to keep our children in the private school.

I don’t think people should have this option. I think everyone should attend public school with limited exceptions and that doing so creates a more cohesive society. I struggle with this decision because I believe I’m contributing to the failure of public schools and society, but, honestly, public education is failing anyway. My children might be better positioned, but I question the future society we’re preparing them for.

Katherine Dalin

37, Chicago

We chose a small Catholic school during covid because they were offering in-person instruction when our public school was only online. We’ve stayed because of the small classes and strong sense of community. The religious instruction is there, but it’s not the driving factor for our choice.

Jen Read, 44

Hillsborough, N.C.

We had never considered private school until this past winter when omicron was so rampant. Private schools had more outdoor time, more kids and staff masking indoors, and highly vaccinated communities (for the most part), which was very important to us, as we work in public health research and are very concerned about long covid and new variants emerging due to continued community transmission.

We never thought we would be paying for private school. We’re doing this at the expense of saving for college and retirement. We believe in the public school system, and it was heartbreaking to leave it. We are taking it year by year and not looking long-term at this point. In addition to covid concerns, our district has had some extreme voices, including parents who want to ban books, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric among parents, and some questionable school board members.

Alicia G. Edwards

40, Miami

My child attends an independent school because it fosters critical thinking, open dialogue and an introduction to peers of a range of backgrounds. It’s an enormous freedom knowing that I get to determine what my student learns and how. When curriculum changes according to the whims of election cycles, we’re in serious trouble.