Last week I contemplated why we weren’t seeing more permanent private school closures due to COVID-19. Since I wrote that we have seen no more COVID‐connected closures—the last one was announced on July 14—and the count on our tracker remains at 107 schools. Reports from around the country are increasingly pointing to one possible reason for the relative dearth of closures: As more school districts declare that they will open with online‐only or just partially in‐person delivery, private schools are gaining families who want face‐to‐face schooling.
- Too Early: Maybe schools haven’t made final decisions yet and many more closures are coming
- Gaining Students: Maybe revenue hits from donations lost to closed church services, and families suffering economic hardships and having to withdraw, have been offset by new families looking for in‐person, and maybe smaller, schooling
- Off the Radar: Our tracker may be missing closures, especially of smaller, more independent schools
- Paycheck Protection Program: This federal program may have helped to stave off insolvency for many schools
It is possibility number 2 for which we are seeing increasing support. As I linked to last week, we have seen reports from Nevada, California, and Minnesota of parents turning to private schools in search of in‐person education. Since then we have seen reports from New York, Texas, and the Washington, DC area. This is all anecdotal – we don’t have nationally representative data – but it is consistent with the relatively low closure numbers we have been seeing.
Not that COVID-19 hasn’t inflicted damage on private schooling. We have only been able to find long‐term tracking on annual private‐school closures for Catholic schools, but it suggests that this is going to be a tough year, at least for that subset of private schools. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is predicting that up to 150 Catholic schools could close this year, which would be the highest total since 2012. Our tracker shows 90 Catholic schools closing at least in part due to experienced or anticipated COVID-19 financial problems. Assuming many of those schools would have remained in business absent COVID-19, the virus does appear to be taking a toll on private schools.
COVID-19 is hurting private schools. But perhaps due to new families moving to them, it increasingly appears that the toll will be less punishing than I originally feared.
This article by Neal McCluskey first appeared in CATO on July 29, 2020.
Image: Teacher Nancie Toullec, wearing a protective face mask, walks in a deserted classroom installed to maintain social distancing in a private school open to children of health workers and workers on the coronavirus frontline in Saint-Sebastien-sur-Loire near Nantes during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France,.