menu toggle icon
Find Care:
Speech Therapy
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Learn:
Read Expert Guides
Will a public school district pay for my child’s private school?

How to get your school district to pay for private school

Updated: May 15, 2024 · 2 Minute Read

Jeryn Cambrah

Reviewed by:

Jeryn Cambrah

Highlights

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a child with special needs has the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). And although IDEA does not require public schools to cover a child’s private school tuition, there are certain circumstances where they will.
  • If a public school district is not able to meet your child’s needs and your child’s IEP team agrees that a private school placement will be best for your child, the public school district will be required to cover your child’s tuition.
  • If you feel a public school has failed to provide your child with the appropriate education guaranteed to them under IDEA, you can decide to make a unilateral change. There are specific and essential steps you need to follow in order to be reimbursed for private school tuition if you make a unilateral change.

Reasons a public school may pay your child’s private school tuition

There are two circumstances in which a public school district may be required to cover a student’s private school tuition.3

  1. The school district makes the decision and will simply cover tuition. If your child’s needs cannot be met and the child’s IEP team agree that a private school placement is best for your child, the public school district will be responsible for paying for the private school.3 In this case your child’s educational team and the school district will make the decision to move your child to a private school. 
  2. You make the decision to pay out of pocket first and then work to get reimbursement (this is more complicated). If you feel that the school district has failed to provide a proper education and meet the needs of your child as required under IDEA, you can decide to make a unilateral change and provide the school district with at least 10 days prior notice.4 The minimum 10-day notice will allow the school district the opportunity to provide solutions or alternative options. The school district may try changing teachers, programs, schools, or they may even decide to move your child to a private school. If the school district fails to provide an appropriate education or refuses to make the necessary changes, you may then move your child to a private school and seek reimbursement. A court or hearing officer will make a decision on whether the district failed to offer a FAPE and whether a private school was the appropriate option.3 In this case, it is important that the parents give the school district a chance to correct the problem first. Parents can’t just decide to move their child and then seek reimbursement.

 

 

Important to know: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that guarantees that eligible students with disabilities will be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that matches their individual needs.2 

IDEA does not require public schools to cover a student’s private school tuition just because a parent decides to place their child in a private school. However, if your child has special needs and your local public school district cannot provide your child with a free appropriate public education, guaranteed to them under IDEA, that school district may be required to pay for your child’s private school tuition, under specific circumstances. 

 

Important Note: Seeking reimbursement for a unilateral change can be very challenging and requires parents to follow very specific steps. Before starting the process parents should consider consulting with a special education advocate and, if possible, an attorney. 



The Contributors

We’d like to recognize and give gratitude to the educators, advocates, autism parents, and community members who contributed hours reviewing this article. Special thanks to Daniella Mini, special education teacher & autism mom; Jeryn Cambrah, autism mom & writer; Andrew Troy Faulkner, special education teacher & resource specialist of 10+ years; Andrea Friedenson, autism mom; Leigh Monichon & Sarah Wickens, autism education advocates & autism moms.

Dive Deeper

Article References

  1. Average Private School Tuition Cost. Private School Review. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.privateschoolreview.com/tuition-stats/private-school-cost-by-state
  2. National School Choice Week Team. The Ultimate Guide to Special Education. National School Choice Week. July 7, 2022. Accessed August 19, 2022. https://schoolchoiceweek.com/special-education/
  3. Logsdon A. Private School Payment for Students with Disabilities. VeryWell Family. August 6, 2021. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.verywellfamily.com/financial-responsibility-for-learning-disabled-students-2162066
  4. Tucker G.C. Unilateral placement: Moving from public to private school. Understood. Accessed September 9, 2022. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/unilateral-placement-moving-from-public-to-private-school