Private Schools Facing Real Challenges from Economic Downturn, Too

Times are tough out there. I don’t have a lot of perspective yet, but there’s no doubt the economy is hurting. And that means not only are real people hurting, but – as the Wall Street Journal reports – so are private schools:

Trinity Episcopal School survived Hurricane Ike last fall. But then another storm hit — the economy.

The Galveston, Texas, school, where tuition is between $5,000 and $8,000 a year, has seen its enrollment drop 12%, says David Dearman, the head of the school. Many parents of its students were among the 3,000 workers laid off by the area’s largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch. At the end of 2008, the school’s endowment was $800,000, down about 20% from July.

The school has ramped up donation efforts through its Web site, and held car washes and bake sales. It stopped using substitute teachers — other staff members now step in when a teacher is out sick. “Our school will survive, but it will take years to recover,” Mr. Dearman says.

Trinity Episcopal School is one of many kindergarten-through-12th-grade private schools caught in the middle of an economic tempest: anemic endowments, dwindling donations, financially strapped parents slashing tuition from the family budget, and an exodus to suburbs with more appealing public schools where costs are lower.

Private schools of all stripes – whether parochial or independent or whatever – play an important role in meeting the education needs of many families. Through the current recession, some of them are bound to fail and close. Others will weather the storm stronger than before. New private schools promise to emerge as the economy turns around.

But we at least can hope private schools don’t come begging for the federal government’s magical money tree. That wouldn’t be good news.

Colorado readers who are private school parents, employees, or board members, how is your school faring these days? What measures are being undertaken to weather the financial storm? I haven’t seen a story from the local traditional media sources, but I’m curious to know.