Can Private Schools Survive As A School Choice Option?
By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. | September 22, 2015 National Center for Policy Analysis
Private school enrollment is on the downswing. The percentage of all students in private schools decreased from 12 percent in 1995-1996 to 10 percent in 2011-2012. Catholic schools have less than half as many students as they did 50 years ago.
Catholic school enrollment peaked in the early 1960s with more than 5.2 million students in 13,000 schools.
During the 1970s and 1980s both the number of students and schools declined sharply followed by a steady increase in enrollment from the mid-1990s through 2000, although there were school closings during this period.
There are several factors impacting private schools.
Costs are escalating for technology, facilities, and staffing while enrollment is decreasing. The cost for financial aid has also increased, with 25 percent requiring financial aid as compared with 17 percent 10 years ago. Median tuition has increased by 52 percent over the past 10 years.
Doctrinal issues between American nuns and the Vatican have impacted Catholic schools. Since 1965 there has been a drop of 72 percent in the number of nuns in the U.S. Previously most of the teaching staff have been nuns but now they comprise less than 2 percent, requiring the hiring of more expensive lay teachers.
The expansion of charter schools into suburbs and wealthier areas poses a formidable threat to private schools because they are free.
The surge in home schooling is yet another challenge for private schools.
Changing demographics are a challenge with which Catholic schools are grappling. White Catholics are moving to suburbs, away from the parish schools, where there are good public schools – free -- while the cities are composed of non-whites with many Hispanics who have not attended either private or parochial schools. Catholic dioceses are learning how to actively reach out and market the value of their schools to this huge potential market.
Vouchers can provide needed funds to attend private schools but many secular private schools refuse them because of the government strings attached. However, many struggling Catholic schools will -- if they are able to get the public funding.
Historically, religious schools have not been able to receive state funding. In the 1800s, to ensure that Protestants maintained control of the public schools instead of Catholics who were migrating to the U.S., the Blaine Amendments were created and included in a majority of state constitutions to prevent any public funding going to sectarian schools, which meant Catholic schools at that time. Today the Blaine amendments have permitted secular humanism to seep into public schools, replacing Protestantism as the belief system.
The future of the Blaine amendments and public funding for religious schools may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court since Colorado’s Douglas County school district is appealing the constitutionality of its local voucher program. Given the court’s current swing from interpreting to legislating, the outcome of the case is highly unpredictable. The Blaine amendments could be viewed as discriminatory or they could be reinforced and expanded to all 50 states.
Even without public funding, private and parochial schools must and are finding ways to compete in the market place. They are launching aggressive marketing campaigns, recruiting foreign students, staging fundraising events and programs, re-purposing the use of their buildings into profit centers, selling off unneeded real estate, and using online learning to reduce staffing needs.
Copyright 2015 Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. All rights reserved