On the southeast side private education plays a significant role. And its no secret that the same schools have been taking a hit lately, whether its the consolidation of the Christian schools at the Iroquois campus, or the shrinking Catholic enrollments. If its any comfort, they’re not alone. Today Education Week released new statistics from the National Center for Educational Statistics, revealing that private school enrollment has plunged by 500,000 — 60 percent coming from the Catholic and conservative protestant schools.
Two things appear to be driving the shift. First would be economics. To the extent that the schools were serving poorer families, those families are more vulnerable to economic downturns. The recent escalation in food and fuel only further strains the budget. The second reason has been the persistent growth of charter schools. A recent study of Michigan charters from Rajashri Chakrabarti (Federal Reserve NY)and Joydeep Roy (Columbia) suggests the schools account for slightly more than 1 percent erosion in nearby private school enrollment.
Within the context of Grand Rapids, the decline of private schools parallels that of the shrinking public school sector as well — both are products of the declining prospects in the city, a decline driving parents to the burbs or as we’ve seen, out of state.
Of longer range interest, is how the report highlights the difficulties for all those who advance private schools as the preferable option to under-performing schools. That private schools have a cost growth of inflation + two percent means that the pool of attending families in the economically-at-risk category increases. As with the state universities, a state subsidy (voucher) would only match part of this and still come up increasingly short, losing its purchasing power over time. So again, we do not have a tool that especially works.
While some choose the school for its perspective or perhaps for its sense of elitism, the continuing drive for the at-risk family is that these are schools they choose, schools where they hope their child will be safe. This is powerful, and certainly seems to be the driver for the growth in charter schools, a growth that has seen enrollment nearly triple from 571,000 in 2001-02, to more than 1.4 million in 2008-09. This growth can again be seen in the area, a growth that can be unnerving for some Dems. However, when seen as a defensive move and not as an ideological one (open book/Bible on the Heritage Academy logo to the contrary), the charter school becomes a seedbed for political action that would build strong neighborhoods.