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Private schools: Why does Germany allow them?

Nancy Isenson
December 17, 2018

Germany taxpayers subsidize thousands of private schools despite the existence of many times more public schools. DW takes a look at why and how alternative private schools are funded.

Two pupils at a Montessori primary school in Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Why does Germany have private schools?
Germany's constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees the right to establish private schools as alternatives to public schools. They are subject to the individual German states, as are all matters of education, and must meet the same standards as public schools.

How many children go to private schools?

Nearly 8.4 million kids went to school during the 2016-17 school year; 750,600 students, or 9 percent, went to private schools rather than state schools.

Read more: Germany is desperate for teachers

How are private schools funded?

Private schools have two main sources of funds: state subsidies and parents. The Basic Law says private schools may not be a means to segregate children from wealthier or poorer households. That means they must be affordable. They also may not turn a profit.

It is up to the states to decide whether the schools can charge tuition fees. The most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, prohibits fees but instead subsidizes alternative schools relatively generously.

Parallel worlds in education

Beyond tuition fees and subsidies, many private schools rely on associations of supporters, often run by parents, to help cover costs for materials, field trips or other projects. Church-run schools tend to be the most affordable because they are largely financed by the churches. Parents can deduct up to €5,000 ($5,670) in school fees from their taxes for each child annually.

How do alternative schools differ from state schools in Germany?

Private schools mainly differ in their approach to education, as is the case with Waldorf or Montessori schools, or by virtue of their stated aim to convey certain values or a particular orientation, such as denominational schools. Teachers at private schools are required to have completed the same training as those at public schools. Pupils at alternative schools in Germany perform similarly to public school pupils in comparative tests such as PISA.

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