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Private Schooling under COVID-19: Hanging in, But Dangers Remain

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Neal McCluskey

Today we released a report on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on American private schooling. The paper focuses on what we observed for a full year after the first private school, at least of which we are aware, declared that it would be going out of business due to the financial effects of the virus and attending lockdowns, social distancing, and more. The paper covers March 18, 2020, to March 17, 2021.

The clearest conclusion of the paper is that a minimum of 132 private schools went out of business at least partially due to COVID-19. As the paper explains, we have reason to believe the total number of closures is not radically higher than that – likely somewhere in the low hundreds – but our closure data is derived almost entirely from media reports. Closures that did not generate media reports, or that were in reports we did not see, are not on our list.

It is also clear that our list is dominated by Roman Catholic schools, institutions in the Northeast, and as the chart below shows, schools that are more affordable than the average American private school. Again, we may be missing schools – the paper discusses several reasons our list may not be representative of all closures – but among confirmed closures these trends are unmistakable.

private COVID closures vs private total & public

Overall, the situation after a year for private schooling was less dire – perhaps much less – than I and others feared it would be in the pandemic’s early days. The paper discusses several possible reasons for this. That said, those 132 schools enrolled around 20,000 students. And as the paper lays out, private schools face very real threats going forward from government responses to COVID-19 and ordinary education policy.

We are continuing to monitor the private schooling situation – indeed, after the paper’s cut‐​off date we recorded 8 more COVID‐​connected closures – and will work to improve our enrollment, funding, and closure data. Also, do not miss our event on April 27 with officials of groups representing three major subsets of private schools: the National Association of Independent Schools, National Catholic Educational Association, and Association of Christian Schools International.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and neither are its impacts on private schools. Our paper is essentially an interim report, not a final evaluation.


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