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You can afford private school

10 ways to boost your financial options

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"Each year there are schools with scholarship and bursary money that isn't used because not enough qualified applicants applied. The school you didn't apply to because you thought you couldn't afford it, may have financial support available to make the fees more manageable." James Christopher, executive director, Canadian Association of Independent Schools

Parents want the best for their children. For more and more Canadian families, this means a private school education. But where does a middle-income family find the funds to fulfill this dream?

Private school tuition can take a big bite out of a family's budget. Yes, some small schools cost less than $4,000 a year, but boarding schools can run upwards of $40,000 annually. On average, parents have to come up with between $10,000 and $20,000 to cover tuition costs.

Determined parents looking to provide the best education for their children explore a range of affordability options. We found 10 ways to bring private school within your reach:

1. Tuition payment plans

It can be difficult to produce $15,000 or $20,000 at one time to cover tuition fees. Schools understand this and many have payment plans to make it easier for families by spreading the cost over the year. This may involve monthly or other installment payments. Check school websites or call the admissions office - or check out our own list of private schools with financial aid or assistance.

2. Trading off other expenses

Private school tuition in some cases is about the same cost as attending a day-care centre. If your budget already includes daycare costs, perhaps those funds may be applied to tuition fees. Sending your child to a private school with smaller class sizes and many extracurricular activities may also save you the expense of tutors or music lessons. These funds may also be applied to tuition costs.

3. Child-care tax deduction

A portion of the tuition fee paid to private schools for children under the age of 16 may often be claimed as a child-care deduction. This relates to portions of the day, considered as child-care services, such as lunchtime supervision. The amount of the deduction is based on the portion of the day that involves supervision and is not related to academic instruction. For example, if three hours out of an eight-hour school day involves child-care supervision, then 37.5 per cent of the tuition fee would be tax-deductible. Part of boarding school tuition can also be deducted as a child-care expense. For more Canadian tax and financial information, consult the Canada Revenue Agency at www.cra-arc.gc.ca or call its tax information phone service at 1-800-267-6999.

4. Children First: School Choice Trust

This program offers tuition grants up to $4,000 annually to families in need in Ontario or Alberta, who want to enrol a child in a private elementary school. About 450 new grants were awarded in the 2006-07 year and more than 800 families had their grants renewed. Each year, applications are accepted at the beginning of January. This grant is aimed at giving lower income families the chance to send their children to private school. For example, to qualify in the 2007/08 year, a family of four must have a before tax income of less than $52,817. See www.childrenfirstgrants.ca or read about paying for private school for more information.

5. Scholarships and bursaries

Many private and independent schools offer a range of financial support, whether based on financial need or on merit. George Briggs, executive director of the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario, notes that its 43 member schools award $5 million in annual aid. Scholarships and bursaries are now tax exempt. Don't hesitate to ask schools about tuition support. In addition, ou can use Our Kids resources to learn more about private school scholarships.

6. Sibling discounts

Various private schools in a range of sizes offer tuition discounts to families with more than one child enrolled. Discounts range from five to 10 per cent, but may be more in some cases for multiple children. Policies vary from school to school, so it's best to check a school's website or speak directly to an admissions counsellor.

7. Setting financial priorities

Sending a child to a private or independent school is a high priority for many families. They budget and make household and lifestyle choices that make it possible. This may include taking more modest vacations, hanging on to cars longer, working extra hours or a part-time job and trimming some of the extras. See the parent handbook at www.childrenfirstgrants.ca (link above).

8. Family support

During the last five years, private and independent schools have seen a trend: More grandparents are paying for their grandchildren's tuition, according to James Christopher, executive director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools. "We used to see a lot of donations to schools from grandparents," he says. "Now they're actually paying the tuition for their grandchildren." The next time your parents ask you to recommend a gift they could purchase for their grandchild, a donation to your child's private education fund might be the perfect suggestion.

9. Religious instruction tax deduction

Schools that are registered charities, such as some Christian schools, can issue tax receipts for a portion of the tuition fee covering religious instruction. Mark Kennedy, spokesperson for the Association of Christian Schools International, says 15 to 25 per cent of the tuition fee is usually eligible. Secular schools may also qualify if they devote time to religious studies. Check with your accountant or the Canada Revenue Agency.

10. Medical expense tax credit

Private school tuition for students with special needs may be eligible for a medical expense tax credit. Special needs can involve either physical or mental challenges that impair a child's ability to learn. The private school must have expertise in accommodating and addressing the student's unique needs. To qualify, a medical practitioner must certify that the equipment, facilities or personnel provided by the school are required because of the student's mental or physical needs. This tax credit involves a complex calculation. For specific details, it's best to consult a tax expert or the Canada Revenue Agency.

Give credit where it's due

Did you know that scholarships and bursaries for elementary or secondary private schools are exempt from income tax? This tax credit, which has been part of Canada's federal budget since March 2007, presents a wealth of opportunities for families who may have thought that private school was previously out of reach.

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