Economy leads to public school switch

PASADENA, Calif. Some parents struggling with that decision may be wondering if the transfer from private to public school comes at the cost of a better education.

The Ennis family never thought they would take all three of their kids out of private schools and go public.

"I have a lot of anxiety built up and I just want to make sure that they are OK," said Tammy Ennis.

However, when the economy began to tank, it took the Ennis family with it. Rocketing tuition became harder to handle. The Ennis family was paying $8,000 to $12,000 per child and, for some parents, that is just too much.

The Ennises are part of a growing trend of middle-income families transferring their kids into Pasadena public schools.

This is a reverse trend that began in the 1970s when a judge ordered public schools to desegregate through busing. That led many middle- and upper-income families to get out.

They've largely stayed out ever since.

"Feedback was very negative about the schools ... from drugs and bullying," said Marybeth Nobs, a private school parent.

Public school test scores in Pasadena and across California have risen in recent years. A grassroots public education group is showcasing that improvement to attract some parents back to the public school system.

"We don't do that by doing spin. We just do it by making it easy for parents to get good experiences with the schools, get on campus ... they tell their friends," said Kristin Maschka, Pasadena Education Network.

"We're really seeing a groundswell of parents coming to our schools and I think that's exciting," said Dr. Kathy Onoye, Elementary Schools Director, Pasadena Unified School District.

Tammy Ennis is a teacher herself and has worked in both private and public schools. She looked at public school statistics and visited campuses.

"I was very pleased and surprised," said Tammy Ennis.

Educational leaders say the influx of middle-income kids benefits everyone, including teachers.

"We know from 40 years of research that all students do better when there is a core of middle-class families in a school and all do worse when there are high concentrations of poverty," said Richard Kahlenberg, Century Foundation.

Many Pasadena families say even with rising test scores, public schools have a long way to go. However, interest does appear to be growing statewide, with half a dozen major school districts reporting at least a slight increase in transfers from private schools.


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