With the nation’s economy continues to spiral deeper into recession, more American families are faced with making hard choices about their personal spending. According to Reuters, government assistance claims rose to their highest level in nine months in the week ending August 7, 2010 – with unemployment claims rising to 4.50 million.
While this decline has been felt in all sectors of the nation’s economy, one segment remains curiously under-reported: the toll this has taken on private schools both here in the Nashville area and across the United States.
Within the past few years, Bridges Academy, Pioneer Christian Academy, East Academy and St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School have all closed their doors due, in large part, to declining enrollment.
Unlike their public school counterparts, private schools rely on student tuition and individual donations to survive. In a stagnant, or deteriorating economy, financial gifts tend to dry-up and schools are left with few options to make up the short-fall. Holding the line on enrollment is a major concern, but with urban private school, this can be extremely problematic. Economic downturns typically hit urban centers hardest. When the parents of urban students can no longer afford tuition, the option most choose is to place their child in a public school setting. As evidenced by the recent Nashville area closings, it doesn’t take a significant loss of student enrollment to begin a death-spiral for a financially-strapped private institution.
Schools already weakened by the economy typically hold the line on expenses in an attempt to remain viable for as long as possible. Foregoing salary increases, tuition increases, and limiting spending, however, bring with them their own problems and offer only temporary solutions.
According to the National Association of Independent Schools, (http://www.nais.org), most private schools have been able to weather reasonable fluctuations in the economic climate – and generally withstand the trials associated with the past few decades. However, the current economic situation is beyond what many models have forecast as a worse-case scenario. There simply is no way to predict how many of these institutions will be able to continue operations.
Without a significant lobby in Washington speaking for them, private schools will continue to sail in uncharted, dangerous economic waters. The past few years have claimed several of these institutions in and around Nashville and, unless the nation’s financial situation improves, more could become casualties.