Tag Archives: Private Schools

Media: “Private Schools Are Ready to Serve Low- and Middle-Income Students” in ExcelinEd

I have a post up on the ExcelinEd blog today (co-authored with Victoria Bell), applying the takeaways from the report Bellwether released last week, “Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students.” The post explores how Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program improves access to private school education and how financial aid from private schools helps fill the gap between average scholarship amounts and average tuition. Here’s an excerpt: 

As highlighted in the Bellwether report, participation in private school choice programs is one strategy to improve private school affordability. Florida’s choice programs make the state a strong example of how the private schooling sector can serve students from low- and middle-income families. 

[…] Relatively low rates of tuition, combined with the support of private school choice programs, increase the likelihood that middle- and low-income families in Florida can afford a private school education if that is what they choose for their child. The average scholarship amount of $6,300 covers 84 percent of tuition at half of the private schools in Florida.

Read more at ExcelinEd here, and read our posts connected to the new report here.

Media: “As Tuition Rises, How Private Schools and Microschools Are Working to Increase Access for Low- and Middle-Income Families” in The 74

Yesterday in The 74, writer Mikhail Zinshteyn summarized key findings from our recent report, “Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students.” Here’s an excerpt of his piece:

A new report from Bellwether Education Partners, a research and consulting nonprofit, seeks to offer a fresh look at how private K-12 schools are keeping their costs down, even as the share of students from middle-income families attending private schools has dropped by nearly 50 percent since the 1960s.

“Private school choice is probably not a 100 percent solution for providing high-quality schools to middle- and low-income families,” Squire said. “But they can help, and I think it’s worth studying them for that reason.”

Read the rest of his piece in The 74, and dive into the full report, which I co-authored with Julie Squire and Melissa King.

What Are Microschools and Should We Have More of Them?

For our new report, “Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students,” we identified almost 200 intentionally small schools, often called “microschools,” across the country. Microschools’ small size — typically between 20 and 150 students across multiple grade levels — allows them the flexibility to implement innovative educational approaches such as multi-age classrooms, highly personalized and student-led learning, blended learning, experiential learning, and teachers as the primary school leaders.

Some proponents see microschools’ intensely relational, customized classrooms as a potential vehicle to improve educational opportunity for low-income students and students of color who are disproportionately underserved in our traditional public system. But is it a good idea to expand the model beyond the private school sector, where it largely lives now?

That question is hard to answer, largely because we don’t yet know enough about the quality and impact of existing microschools. Continue reading

Affordable Private Schools? There’s a Will — and a Way

Surveys show that 40% of Americans would like to send their children to a private school, yet only 10% actually do so. With an average tuition of $11,450, it’s no surprise that low- and middle-income families are unable to afford private schools.

Many schools try to be more affordable to families by subsidizing costs with public funds, such as vouchers or tax-credit scholarships, or by securing private donations and endowments to provide financial aid. While these revenue sources certainly help, they are limited.

Over the past several years, a number of private schools have come up with alternative and creative ways to fund their schools without passing the buck to parents. In a new report, we’ve profiled schools and networks such as Cristo Rey and Build UP that use work-study models to make private school education more affordable while also providing skills development and asset-building opportunities for students.

Cristo Rey Network

Founded in 1996, the Cristo Rey Network* has provided low-income students with a college preparatory education complemented by their Corporate Work Study Program experience. For five days a month, students complete a full day of work in a corporate environment such as a law firm, bank, or consulting firm, doing anything from general office work to translation services.

Partnerships with local businesses not only provide students with early exposure to important professional development skills, but also significantly subsidize tuition costs. Rather than paying students wages, students’ earnings go directly to the school to supplement tuition. Half of Cristo Rey Schools’ revenue comes from the Corporate Work Study Program, and families only have to pay a small tuition ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on family income. Family contributions make up 10% of Cristo Rey’s revenues, and the remaining 40% comes from fundraising or publicly funded school choice programs.

Build UP

Build UP in Birmingham, AL provides low-income students with a high school and postsecondary education along with job skills and home ownership, while also contributing to the renewal of blighted communities. Over the course of six years, Build UP students earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree while renovating abandoned homes through paid apprenticeships. Splitting time between coursework in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and justice-based leadership, students receive an educational stipend of $15 an hour, half of which goes toward their tuition. Families are only obligated to contribute $1,500 in tuition annually.

Graduates take over the deed of an owner-occupied home and a rental property, and can earn passive income as a landlord after they meet one of the following conditions: Begin a high-wage job with a salary of at least $40,000 annually, enroll in a four-year college degree program, or launch their own business. So far, Build UP — which launched in 2018 — has grown to serve 70 students and has plans to expand even more. By gaining workforce skills and a guaranteed pathway to home ownership, Build UP seeks to create a social and economic safety net for the students and communities it serves. Continue reading

Leaders of Religious Private School Management Organizations Have New Complexities to Navigate

Private school management organizations (PSMOs) can learn a lot from the challenges and successes of charter school management organizations (CMOs) over the last couple of decades. However, one element crucial to many private schools’ missions—their religious orientation—creates a new and different set of challenges for PSMOs to navigate as they grow and expand.

As described in our recent paper, the degree of separation from a religious institution is a key factor differentiating existing PSMOs. Some PSMOs, like Blyth-Templeton and Thales Academy, are nonsectarian and therefore function very similarly to CMOs, entirely separate from any religious organizations.

But the vast majority of PSMOs in our study—12 of the 14—are religiously affiliated. Eight of the 12 PSMOs operate Catholic schools. To be considered Catholic schools, the local Bishop must formally recognize them as such, and all Catholic schools are governed by Canon law. Most are directly run by either an individual parish (parochial schools) or by the local diocese (diocesan schools). Historically, pastors have had a great deal of responsibility for running schools, overseeing not only the religious education but also the hiring of the principal and teachers, the school facility, the budget, managing enrollment, and more. When a PSMO takes over the operation of a Catholic school, however, it means a redistribution of these responsibilities and a new relationship between the pastor, parish, church community, school staff, and PSMO leaders. (For a fuller explanation of the history and governance of Catholic schools, see this guidebook.)

The Catholic PSMOs in our study have approached this challenge in a number of ways. Some, like the San Jose Drexel Schools and the Jubilee Schools in Memphis, are what we call “church-operated” PSMOs. Much like “skunk works” operations within large firms where a small group of people pursues a new idea outside of routine organizational procedures, church-operated PSMOs are separate offices embedded within the hierarchy of their local diocese. Although the diocese remains responsible for the success or failure of the schools, the PSMOs’ offices have been given considerable flexibility around the operations of a subset of schools. For example, the Jubilee Schools have a longer school day and year-round school calendar, different from the other schools in the diocese.

Other Catholic PSMOs have embraced what we call a “church-affiliated” model. These networks are all separate 501(c)(3) organizations that, through a management agreement with the local diocese, assumed operational control of a subset of the diocese’s schools. The nuances of these agreements—and their origins—vary significantly from PSMO to PSMO, and are prime fodder for additional study. But even just the basics that we cover in our paper suggest interesting divergence. For example, the Archdiocese of New York’s 2010 Strategic Plan laid out a plan for moving toward a regionalized governance structure that included the creation of a set of six inner-city elementary schools to be managed by a local nonprofit organization, The Partnership for Inner-city Education (PNYC). Through an 11-year agreement with the Archdiocese, PNYC has broad authority over the budgets, finances, operations, and academic programming of the six schools. As part of its five-year agreement with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Faith in the Future (FIF) PSMO agreed to underwrite the deficits of the 17 high schools and four special education schools over which it gained operational control.

The Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA) has a considerably different model: Rather than assuming operational control of a set of schools in one particular geography, NDAA partners with local dioceses in multiple geographies to create a new, separate board to govern a subset of schools. NDAA provides a couple of board members and a school principal. Unlike the agreements forged by PNYC or FIF, under the NDAA model parishes continue to oversee and operate each school. The new board and principal allow NDAA to play a key role in school operations such as school culture, governance, finance, instruction, and family and community engagement.

Cristo Rey, on the other hand, has no such agreement with a diocese. Instead, its model is much closer to that of nonsectarian PSMOs or even CMOs. All of Cristo Rey’s schools are independent Catholic schools sponsored by religious orders rather than affiliated with a particular parish. Per Canon law, all of the network’s schools are formally recognized as Catholic by the local Bishop. But beyond that, there is no formal relationship between the schools and the diocese (although many schools do have close, voluntary relationships with the various orders that sponsor them).

The intricacies of Catholic PSMOs’ relationships with their local dioceses and the specifics of the various management agreements are important points for additional research. Not only is the field of PSMOs relatively new and burgeoning, but navigating relationships with religious institutions is something not paralleled in the public school sector. The Catholic PSMOs in this study have begun to pave new roads for future PSMOs. Their successes and challenges and ongoing navigation of a bureaucracy as complex and time-honored as the Catholic Church—all while respecting the history, faith, values, customs, and traditions of the Church and its local parishes, priests, and communities—must not be overlooked.