Budget & Tax , Education

Government spending hikes put pressure on private schools

Curtis Shelton | November 6, 2023

Now that Oklahoma has enacted universal school choice, will private schools in Oklahoma raise their tuition?

Perhaps some will, but in a new report (“School choice policies do not raise private-school tuition”) scholars at The Heritage Foundation discovered (perhaps surprisingly) that “over the past 10 years, states that never had a school choice policy had higher rates of tuition increases than states that had adopted school choice policy.” Moreover, “among states that adopted school choice, inflation-adjusted tuition rates decreased, on average, after the adoption of school choice.”

This doesn’t mean that private-school tuition in Oklahoma won’t increase over the next few years. Indeed, it would be unrealistic to think tuition rates won’t rise, given the pressure that increased public school funding and inflation have had on private schools.

Consider, for example, the labor market for teachers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average public-school teacher had a base salary of $61,100 in 2021 while the average private-school teacher had a base salary of $46,400. Granted, many teachers are willing to forgo the extra pay for the benefits of teaching in a private school environment. Even so, that decision is becoming more difficult after the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt increased a public-school teacher’s starting salary by $8,000 since 2018.

Inflation has also put pressure on private schools, just like it has on everyone else. While inflation hovered around 2 percent for much of the past decade, it jumped to 4.7 percent in 2021 and 8 percent in 2022. Inflation has eased back somewhat over the past year but still sits at above 3 percent.

In short, with increased costs for everything, including labor, private schools will be hard-pressed to hold tuition flat. Still, it’s important to remember that private schools in Oklahoma are comparatively cheaper than public schools. According to, average private school tuition in Oklahoma is $7,091 for elementary schools and $8,095 for high schools. And some sources place the numbers even lower. Joe Dorman, a former Democratic nominee for Oklahoma governor and currently the CEO of a left-of-center advocacy organization, cites data saying the annual average tuition among all K-12 private schools in Oklahoma is $6,611.

Compare this with a per-pupil expenditure of $12,967 in Oklahoma public schools.

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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