Private Schools Help Students During Tough Economic Times

May 28, 2009 06:58 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
As the country’s economic troubles wear on, some private schools are taking steps to help students pay tuition and keep enrollment up.

When Tuition Is Hard to Pay

Like many people, Emily Schafer’s family has had to watch its spending more carefully lately. Finding money for private school tuition payments has been a little more challenging as well, according to The Indianapolis Star.

Schafer and two other siblings are participating in a program at Bishop Chatard High School in Indiana that allows them to mop floors, take out trash and clean white boards in order to receive a $5 credit to their tuition for each day they work.

But Schafer’s family isn’t unique. Families around the country have been requesting some sort of financial aid or payment system to help them manage the costs of keeping their kids in private school.
In Illinois, St. John Lutheran School is cutting tuition for some of its grades, and also offering 15 tuition-free spots to students from active military families, the Mundelein Review reported.

“In our school, our focus is family,” Ray Linnemann, the school board chairman, told the paper. “We teach values, and people are hurting financially right now. We want to show the kids that we need to help our friends.”

According to the Mundelein Review, one of the reasons some private schools are weathering the financial crisis stems from the fact that they don’t require state funding in their budgets. Linnemann explained that “low property taxes and estimated assessed values of homes” are hurting some public schools, and encouraging a few parents to consider private school instead.

During 2008, New York City private schools reported that they were “thriving” during the economic downturn, but parents and funders were concerned that the prosperity would be short-lived.

“We’re not experiencing any signs of impact from the economic downturn,” Steve Nelson, head of school at Calhoun on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, told The New York Times. He clarified, saying, “That’s not to say that we won’t.”

Some schools have seen a decline in their endowment, but their plan for handling such situations, much like public schools, is to watch their spending carefully.

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Opinion & Analysis: Public or private school?

Finances might prompt some parents to consider public school instead of private school, but The Indianapolis Star notes, “Nonetheless, one pattern is emerging: Even when forced to scrimp on other expenses, many families will stick with private schools despite the hard times.”

One private school has promised to cover tuition payments for students if a parent loses a job. Others are carefully assessing what programs and job positions are absolutely necessary, and even considering green initiatives to reduce operating expenses and keep enrollment steady.

In some instances, however, the reality is that students must start attending public school, and the private schools they leave behind move one step closer to closing their doors. The Hibernian Private School in Fort Myers, Fla., has lost almost 50 percent of its student body to “student mobility or graduation,” and could shut down if enrollment doesn’t improve, the Cape Coral Daily Breeze reported.

Numbers matter to this little school, whose student-teacher ratio is 5:1. “One of the first things is to take kids out of a private school, but because we are so small to begin with, if we lose five kids that will make a difference for a school our size,” school founder Yvonne McQuillan explained. 

In Washington state, private schools are monitoring both their spending and their enrollment numbers. The number of kids in private school has dropped a little, but in some cases, enrollment isn’t as bad as officials had anticipated when the economy soured.

“People have said they’re kind of stepping out in faith,” Holly Leach, principal of Northshore Christian Academy in Everett, told The Associated Press. “They know that people are getting laid off and companies are downsizing, so they are hoping that they can weather through the economy in order to afford private school.”

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