The effects of coronavirus and the subsequent economic shutdown are causing ripple effects across America. Everything – from restaurants to gas stations to theme parks – has been affected by this crisis. Among the list of unexpected victims, JLF’s Terry Stoops writes, are private schools. Stoops explains:

These unnerving economic conditions affect the lives of families in numerous ways.  As household incomes drop — or virtually disappear — families seek ways to cut spending wherever possible. It starts with canceling vacations and slashing expenditures on entertainment, restaurant meals, and nonessential items. Eventually, they make the tough choice to forgo a private school education for their children in favor of sending them to the local public school. 

These are not wealthy parents who send their children to elite boarding schools. Most are middle-class parents who make meaningful financial sacrifices to send their children to small, faith-based private schools that complement the needs of the child and the values of the family.

A decline in private school enrollment could place a strain on public schools as students transfer over. Dr. Stoops writes:

Last year, 102,400 students were enrolled in 769 private schools in North Carolina. If this year’s enrollment grew at the previous year’s rate, a 10% drop in private school enrollment would divert an estimated 10,321 private school students into public or home schools…

Cost estimates for this 10% student migration vary. On the low end, EdChoice researchers estimate that state and local governments would need to increase their education budgets by about $90.6 million just to accommodate these former private school students. On the high end, Foundation for Excellence in Education researchers warn that a fiscal impact could exceed $120 million.  North Carolina public schools can’t afford a budget increases of this magnitude due to the collapse of state and local tax revenue. 

There are more problems for private schools on the horizon. Dr. Stoops writes:

In the short term, private schools face the prospect of losing thousands of students due to the coronavirus recession. The long-term challenges are just as daunting. In an open letter to private school leaders, Benjamin Scafidi and Eric Wearne of Kennesaw State University in Georgia point out that the declining birth rate will test private schools for years to come.  Scafidi and Wearne report “the number of births in the United States fell by 12% from 2007 to 2018 — from 4.32 million in 2007 to 3.79 million in 2018.” As the number of children decreases, so too does the pool of potential students and the tuition dollars that come with them.  

Read the full brief here. Watch Dr. Stoops address concerns of a student participation drop-off in the wake of coronavirus on Carolina Journal radio here.