Private schools may suffer as cash-strapped families cannot afford school fees
The economic pressure that the coronavirus pandemic is putting on Hawaiian families is having a ripple effect on private schools, where a cloud of uncertainty hangs over enrollments and budgets for the next school year.
Some families are unsure whether they will be able to re-enroll their children without more financial assistance or are asking to extend the filing deadline to keep a student seat for next year.
“Here at La Pietra we are already receiving requests for additional financial assistance,” not only for the next school year, but for the rest of it, said school principal Josh Watson. “Families say, while not certain, the outlook does not look very good.”
While about 1 in 10 children attend private schools across the United States, in Hawaii the number is much higher. About 34,800 students are enrolled in about 120 private schools statewide, or 16% of the total school-age population.
Median tuition fees for private schools statewide are $ 8,700, although it can reach $ 14,300 for Honolulu-based institutions, according to 2019-20 data.
While the term “private school” may refer to large, famous institutions associated with alumni like Punahou or Iolani, the majority of private schools in the state are small, non-profit organizations with 300 or fewer students and few. or no endowment, according to Phil Bossert, the executive director of Hawaiian Association of Independent Schools.
“And because they provide need-based financial aid (they) serve low-income students as well as financially well-off students,” he said in an email.
Difficult economic conditions have forced some private schools to apply for a federal degree Paycheque Protection Program Loan – part of a recovery plan against coronaviruses which has so far been reached approximately 11,500 Hawaiian companies.
The PPP loan is open to any small business with 500 or fewer employees and can be fully canceled if at least 75% of the loan is used to cover salary costs.
The Academy Garden, a private pre-K-12 school in Kailua with just under 800 students and an enrollment of around 190, received a $ 2 million PPP loan, according to school principal Earl Kim.
This loan, he said, will help cover salaries and benefits, as well as facilities and maintenance.
This is a necessary element, said Kim, given Le Jardin’s recent decision to offer more financial assistance to families, including for the first time, children aged 3 and 4 in pre-kindergarten and also at the kindergarten level, due to the coronavirus. need powered.
School, including tuition fees is $ 15,900 for full-time kindergarten and $ 22,577 per year for years K-12, offers a 30% discount on tuition fees for preschool, kindergarten and kindergarten families for both last months of teaching when the school is passed to all -Distance learning.
No student has withdrawn from the Garden for the 2020-21 school year, but Kim expects some financially strained families, especially with children in younger grades, to be able to choose to do so.
This is why the school, which has an annual operating budget of $ 20 million, decided to expand its financial assistance and apply for the federal loan.
“Our school administration, our school counselors, believe that it is important for the health of our student population to have diversity and to redirect funds towards financial aid,” he said.
Robert Gelber, spokesperson for Punahou, the largest private school in Hawaii, said the school will not apply for a P3 loan, but anticipates a “significant increase in demand for financial aid” for which it is prepared to budget and fundraise.
Some other large private schools, including Kamehameha and Iolani schools, also said they did not apply for a PPP loan.
Lessons from the last recession
It wouldn’t be the first time that private schools in Hawaii have faced a potential drop in enrollment due to economic forces.
The recession of 10 years ago resulted in school closures as well as a gradual decline in the total number of private school enrollments over several years.
Estimated enrollments in private K-12 schools fell about 9% between 2008 and 2012. Between those years, 11 small private schools closed or merged with other schools, according to Bossert of HAIS.
One school that closed, in part because of the economic downturn, was the Academy of the Pacific.
Watson, from La Pietra, was deputy principal of the school at the Academy of the Pacific when it closed in 2013, after five decades of existence.
“I myself am a survivor of a school closure,” he said. “What I would predict (now) is that we will see the same thing happen but on a shorter time scale.”
Watson says the economic downturn is happening much faster than the last recession and the future prospects for schools are much more uncertain.
“I think we’re going to see a much bigger drop now in some schools – not overall, but schools that see declining enrollment won’t have the lag effect a year or two,” said Watson.
La Pietra, a private school for girls in grades 6 to 12, is still seeing enrollment openings for the next school year that could have been filled without the current situation.
“We have a handful of families who would like to commit but are not sure if they are able to commit,” Watson said.
The school’s summer program will be fully online and its new school year will begin on August 5th. She plans to tap into endowment funds to cover her financial and operational costs and has also applied for a PPP loan.
The school, which charges $ 20,400 in tuition, enrolls 160 students and employs 21 teachers, has an annual operating budget of $ 5 million.
Private and parochial schools, in addition to public schools and higher education institutions in Hawaii, are also eligible for funds through the $ 10 million allocated to Hawaii as part of the Governor’s Emergency Aid Fund for Education of the CARES Act, a discretionary sum that state leaders must distribute to educational institutions.
Governor David Ige has made no decision on how these funds will be distributed, but the state went ahead and officially launched the release of funds, confirmed Ige spokesperson Cindy McMillan.
In one April 20 letter to IgeBossert of HAIS noted that federal funding parameters require “equitable participation of non-public schools in the expenditure of funds.”
“Helping these schools stay afloat will also prevent an influx of new students looking for space and resources this coming fall into public schools in Hawaii that have also been hit hard by the demands of the COVID-19 virus,” he wrote.
“There is no doubt that (the Hawaii Department of Education) deserves the lion’s share of federal funds, but Hawaii’s private schools are also educating thousands of low-income students across the state.” , Bossert said.
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