Saturday, March 10, 2012

Private Schools Are Hurting Too

I started this blog to explore how education is funded... by parents, by governments, by fundraising... by any means necessary.

While my own children are in public school, I'm also fascinated by the ways that private education is financed, especially in a struggling economy. What you won't find on my blog are any public vs. private debates. I find that tiresome. I think every parent does what they think is best for their children. And besides, the constant pressure to bring more money in to schools--either to the PTA or the Scholarship Fund--is something that private and public school parents have in common.

The sign pictured above hangs on the fence at a private school not far from my house. I see signs like this all over my area... on sandwich boards, attached to schools, as advertisements on Patch. In early 2009, when we were looking at schools for our older son, the admissions deadlines for private school applications were hard and fast: you had to have the paperwork in by February 1st. Now, if these signs are any indication, there is availability in many private schools all year long.

Do I even need to say why private schools are struggling? If you lose your job, what are you going to cut back on? Food? The mortgage or car payments? Health insurance? Sadly, unemployed people often do cut back on essentials. But private school tuition is not an essential, no matter how much a family covets its private school experience. 

A few years ago, I signed our older son up for summer camp at a very small, very alternative private school. The camp was affordable and offered many opportunities for free play and exploration in nature. A few weeks before camp was to begin, I received a handwritten, apologetic letter from the school's proprietor, along with a check for a full refund for our tuition. When the economy tanked, many of the school's families could no longer afford it, and decided to homeschool instead. Having no significant scholarship or rainy-day fund, the school went belly-up. Another school in my region--fancier and better-established than my son's almost-summer camp, is scheduled to close at the end of the year due to declining enrollment and financial mismanagement.

I'm no expert and I have no idea if private schools will fully rebound in an improving economy. On occasion, my husband and I think that a smaller school with a more creative curriculum might be a better fit for our children. But then I remember how expensive college tuition has become, and I am snapped right back to reality!

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