son receives the best education I can possibly provide,” she says. While fees may vary, NAIS estimates that 1998-99 tuition for pre-K ranges from $4,990 to $16,400 in the East to $1,905 to $8,926 in the Southwest. For kindergarten, tuitions range from $6,120 to $14,700 in New England to $4,986 to $14,350 in the West.
Many companies and organizations allow employees to make pretax contributions to flexible spending accounts to pay for qualified dependent day care, such as preschool and private kindergarten. These contributions can be made from the time the child is born until he or she completes kindergarten, for a maximum of $5,000 annually. You determine how much money to contribute to the account, based on anticipated expenses during the plan year. Each pay period, a portion of that amount is credited to the flexible spending account out of your gross pay. Tax withholdings are then calculated on the remaining amount, so your tax rate is actually lowered. You can also withdraw money, tax-free, from the account whenever you need to make a tuition payment, and deductions can continue throughout the year. Be aware that you will probably have to submit proof that the withdrawal is being used for a qualifying educational expense.
“Flexible spending accounts are a good thing because it gives you tax advantages and it’s a very efficient way to save,” says Frazier. In September, when Zachary enters kindergarten at the Mohawk Country Home School-which will cost $10,000-Frazier will have satisfied half of that financial commitment “in a less painful way” through her flexible spending account. The rest will come from her savings and investments.
Frazier and the Ballentines are a few of the growing number of parents who are buying their children a better education. “It was tough thinking long term that if I stay in Prince George’s County I’d continue to pay for school,” laments James, who in two years will have a second tuition to pay when Kendal begins school. Although the school he has chosen, the Renaissance Christian Academy, has a flat-rate tuition for preschool through eighth grade, there are regular inflationary increases.
In the mid-Atlantic states, tuition can be as low as $3,100 or as high as $17,700, an amount comparable to the cost of a year or more at many universities and colleges. At many Eastern schools, it can soar as high as $19,886. “Try to resist the sticker shock reaction,” counsels Mark Mitchell, director of financial aid services at the NAIS. “A lot of schools offer aid to reduce the tuition costs publicized in their brochures or Websites. So the cost you see isn’t always the cost you pay.”
FINDING FINANCIAL AID
Ask the school if it offers any financial aid programs that help offset the amount. Mitchell recommends that parents make financial aid queries as soon as possible, so that they will have an immediate idea of their financial options. Unlike the situation at the college and university level, where federal financial assistance is available, aid at the elementary-secondary level is funded