Money shouldn’t get in the way of securing the best education for your child with special needs.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitles all children with special needs to receive a free special education through the public school system. However, if you’ve decided a private special education school would better suit your child’s needs, it can get expensive. But there may be certain situations where your public school district is required to pay for it. And if not, there are other ways to make it more affordable.
Will the public school district pay for my child’s special education?
It depends on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) set up by your child’s public school. Under IDEA, every child has a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If the school district doesn’t believe it can accommodate your child and give them a comprehensive education — either due to limited resources or not having the right kind of educators — it might suggest an out-of-district placement. This can be:
- A public school in a different school district
- A private day school
- A private boarding school
If the IEP team agrees to a private school placement for your child, then the public school district is responsible for footing the bill. If it doesn’t, you can still try to get reimbursed for the tuition through a due process hearing.
How can I finance a private special education school for my child?
In the case that you need to fund your child’s private special education schooling yourself, there are quite a few options to look into.
Scholarships and grants
Many private schools offer scholarships to make tuition more affordable. But you’re not limited to just what your school offers. Some states offer scholarship or grant programs — sometimes known as vouchers — that can help you finance your child’s special education. These include:
Other states have scholarship programs developed specifically for low-income families looking into private school. While these don’t specifically take your child’s special needs into account, they can provide extra funds if you’re struggling with high tuition costs.
You may also want to look into opportunities available through local nonprofits or religious institutions. Some offer scholarships and grants to parents in need.
If tuition is too much for your family to handle, you may be able to request a payment plan to help make the cost more manageable. Check with the school’s bursar office to learn more about your options.
For example, Brehm Preparatory School in Illinois — rated one of the top schools for special education in the country — offers monthly payment options for parents who are required to pay full tuition or the costs of room and board.
Unfortunately, not every school offers a payment plan or tuition reimbursement. Be sure to explore the school’s financial aid page and contact a representative before committing to a school for your child.
K–12 education loans
Many providers have started offering K–12 education loans specifically designed to finance private education for your children. These tend to have similar rates and terms as personal loans, but are often available for higher amounts to help cover the full cost of tuition.
Two top lenders that offer K–12 education loans are Sallie Mae and LightStream, but you can find more options and learn how to apply with our guide to financing private K–12 education.
A personal loan might be suitable if your child’s school doesn’t offer any scholarships or payment plans — and if your child’s IEP doesn’t recommend out-of-district placement. Most lenders allow you to use personal loans to pay for K–12 schooling — just not postsecondary education expenses.
Loan amounts go up to $100,000, and many lenders offer competitive interest rates for borrowers with good to excellent credit. Plus, if you choose an unsecured option, you won’t risk losing your property or other asset should you default.
Home equity loans
If you’d prefer a secured loan to get a lower interest rate, a home equity loan could help. You could get up to 80% of your home’s equity value as loan funds, which can then be used for tuition, boarding, therapy treatments or other costs that may arise during the school year.
Both home equity loans and personal loans can also be used for other expenses that come with raising your child. Extra tutoring, visits to a neuropsychiatrist for diagnoses and various therapies all cost money and may not be covered by insurance or your school district.
Compare personal loan options
How much does private special education cost?
In general, tuition at a private education school can range anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 annually. It varies widely depending on where you live, the type of program your child’s enrolled in, if it’s a day school or boarding school, among other factors.
4 questions to ask before borrowing for private education
Decide to enroll your child in a private special education school? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before committing to a large loan.
- How long do I plan on having my child enrolled? Think about how many years of private school tuition you’ll need to finance. Are you planning on sending them for just the elementary school years? Or high school as well? This can give you an idea of how much you’ll need to borrow and help you create a budget to keep costs manageable.
- Will I be eligible for grants or scholarships in the future? Just because your family doesn’t qualify for aid this year doesn’t mean you won’t the next. If you anticipate your finances will change in the upcoming year, consider any future scholarships or financial aid you may qualify for when deciding how much to borrow.
- Am I going to send their siblings to the same school? If you plan on sending your child to a non-specialized private school, consider whether you want to send your other children as well. Some schools give discounts for multiple enrollments, though you’ll need to take these additional tuition costs into account as well.
- Is a summer program more affordable? If your child’s IEP covers most of their needs, but you want them to be around other children with similar abilities, you may want to consider a summer program at a private school. Many schools that serve students with disabilities have summer terms that may be more affordable than year-round tuition.
Depending on whether your child’s IEP team recommends a private school placement or not, you may have to pick up the majority of the bill for private special education. If scholarships and vouchers fall short, a variety of loans may be able to help.
Compare your options and learn more about how they work with our guide to personal loans.