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Private Schools and Stimulus Funding

When Senator Chuck Schumer succeeded in obtaining additional stimulus support for private schools, it is schools like ours—serving families of modest means—and moms like Sashaly Gomez who benefit.

Mrs. Gomez faced a host of challenges this fall. The mom of two and operations manager of a sneaker outlet getting ready to reopen for in-person business, she knew that her Kindergartner had struggled at his previous school before COVID; found that remote learning required her full-time attention with him; and realized that, with her husband laid off due to the pandemic, she faced an anguishing choice: work to help support her family, or quit to supervise her son’s remote learning.

As education news source The 74  profiled in December, she did not end up having to make that choice; she was able to obtain a scholarship to partially defray the cost of sending her son to the Partnership’s Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary, where her son could learn in person—and ended up flourishing in ways he had not done last year.

Landon Gomez, Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary first grader.

Those who object to federal stimulus funding for private schools may have in mind institutions like Dalton and Exeter, profiled this month by the Atlantic Monthly for their extravagances and the $50,000+ tuition they charge. And the Atlantic’s headline—“Private Schools Are Indefensible”—aptly captures the outrage aimed at such institutions.

But private schools include ones like ours—where eighty percent of our New York families were on scholarship last year. Dalton’s tuition of $54,000 far exceeds a Partnership scholarship family’s whole yearly income—an average of just over $29,000. Looked at differently, our average parent payment is $2,180—which means that we educate twenty-five children for the parent cost of one at our elite institutional neighbors.

The Gomez family are private school parents too. To ignore the truth of low-and middle-income private school parents in COVID emergency funding would have been a tacit vote to make the full range of school options more elite—by ensuring that only the wealthiest schools, serving predominantly wealthy children, have the means to serve students fully during the pandemic.

In order to keep schools open in person for over two thousand hard-working families in New York and Cleveland, the Partnership’s nine schools will spend over $2.7 million this year—on masks, ventilation improvements, computers, additional instructional staff to assist with coverage, and additional hardship tuition assistance for families who have lost jobs. That’s almost ten percent of our budget this year.

We are not alone. Parochial schools and other faith-based institutions serving middle- and low-income students have scraped together the means to serve a wide range of families with the education they’ve deemed best for their children. It is gratifying that even teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten acknowledges this; “‘All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-Covid, and it would be a ‘shonda’ if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now and in the aftermath of this emergency,’ she said, using a Yiddish word for shame.”

We appreciate Weingarten acknowledging too that “the nonwealthy kids that are in parochial schools, their families don’t have means, and they’ve gone through Covid in the same way public school kids have”—although we’d suggest that some of them, like the Gomezes, have had the advantage of attending in person for much longer than their public school peers, thanks to their religious schools’ tireless efforts to be open even before any of them knew if government funding would support those efforts.

As many families will tell you, not all public school districts are built the same. As of 2018, for instance, there were at least seven school districts in New York State where families make over $100,000 per year. If their schools are deemed worthy of federal funding to help with pandemic-related educational costs, surely private schools serving families making far less than that deserve a hand as well—and that is precisely what the recently passed stimulus package recognizes.

Beth Blaufuss is Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Partnership Schools.