Besides tuition, two of the biggest differences between public schools and private schools are religion and class size.
A handful of private schools operate in the quad-city area, teaching different curriculums through varying grade levels. Those schools include Trinity Christian School, Sacred Heart Catholic School, Primavera School and Prescott Adventist Christian School.
Private schools, unlike charter and district schools, are not required to teach a secular curriculum, as the schools don't receive government money. That allows for private schools to teach a faith-based curriculum to students of all beliefs, Trinity Christian School Headmaster Kyle Maestri said. Trinity teaches grades kindergarten through 12.
"It allows us to give students the biblical worldview that we strongly believe in," Maestri said.
Primavera School instructs children from grades kindergarten through 5. The school runs primarily from student tuition, as well as tax-credit donations, which creates scholarships for incoming students.
Primavera offers a religious and philosophy-free curriculum, Director Carol Darrow said. Darrow has been a fixture at Primavera for 28 years.
"We don't have a philosophy that permeates the curriculum," she said. "It's not a faith-based program. We're an independent private school."
Like Trinity and Primavera, Sacred Heart Catholic School is open to all students, regardless of religious beliefs, though Catholic teachings are a part of the curriculum at Sacred Heart, school principal Pamela Dickerson said. The school is accredited through the Western Catholic Educational Association. Sacred Heart Catholic School teaches grades kindergarten through 8.
"Catholic religion is woven into everything we do. We start with our mission and, within our mission, we say that we educate the whole child," Dickerson said. "We also still have Spanish, art, music and physical education and we still have computer classes."
Darrow said one of the major differences she sees between public schools and private schools is student engagement.
"Primavera students are actively engaged in their learning and they feel very connected to the school community. They come to school loving to learn and we keep it that way. I feel like we are very much a caring community of learners here and you feel that connection when you walk on campus," Darrow said.
Another difference, she said, is smaller class sizes. A typical class size at Primavera is 12 to 15 students. "When classes are small you can work with students in ways that you simply logistically cannot do when class sizes become so large. You have to treat everyone the same," Darrow said.
Tuition costs for students in local private schools average just over $5,000 a year. But those costs can be offset in a number of ways including tax donations, fundraisers, and subsidies from religious organizations. Trinity, for instance, puts on a fall banquet every year that can raise as much as $100,000 for the school.
At Sacred Heart, tax donation dollars are directed through the Catholic Education Association (CEA) of Arizona. Tax donations allow low-income families to enroll their children in private education, Dickerson said. Other private schools offer similar programs.
"We have a diverse population here. It's not just rich people that attend our private school. We have people of all economic and social levels. Because of the CEA we're allowed to have these students attend our school," Dickerson said.
Staff at Sacred Heart also stress service and helping others to encourage students to become strong members of the local and global community, she said. Those efforts include collections, letters to soldiers, food and clothing drives, and more.
Trinity Christian School, Maestri said, teaches students how to think for themselves, to think biblically about the world, how to articulate in a clear way, and take on leadership roles upon graduation.
More than 20 different churches also are represented in the school's student body, Trinity Community Advancement Director Carole Stensrud said.
"We're not associated with any church. We're not sponsored. It's a biblical-based worldview, but we have a lot of kids from different churches that come here," she said.
A hot meal program isn't offered at Trinity or Primavera and students typically bring their own lunch each day. Sacred Heart, meanwhile, offers a hot breakfast and lunch program that interested parents are billed for, Dickerson said.
Neither Primavera, Sacred Heart or Trinity offer bus transportation for students. While there is no bus system, involved parents often will organize carpools with school staff, Trinity Assistant Headmaster Aaron Rosberg said.
When it comes to sports, students in the Trinity Christian School Warriors sports program compete in the Canyon Athletic Association. Students participate in basketball, cross country and girls volleyball. Sacred Heart also offers a sports program for students in sixth through eighth grades, which includes flag football, cross country, cheerleading, girls and boys basketball and co-ed soccer. Primavera does offer physical education opportunities, such as dance, yoga, swimming, tae kwon do and more, but the elementary school has no sports program.
Sophomore AnnieLaurie Anton has been a student at Trinity for seven years.
"I like it a lot. I really like the teachers and all my classes and friends. I really like the environment and how we learn about God here. Even in church I don't get as much knowledge as I do here." Anton said.
Follow reporter Patrick Whitehurst on Twitter @pwdcourier