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Private school enrollment down as parents struggle to pay

The recession is forcing Washington families to make tough decisions about their children’s education. As incomes have dwindled, so has attendance at private schools. In the past few years, the schools have lost nearly 3,000 kids, according to data reported to the state. 

A few years ago, when more families could pay big to give their little ones a possible edge, many private schools were maxed out. Some had waiting lists a mile long. Now, some schools are struggling to attract enough students, says Judy Jennings, executive director of the Washington Federation of Independent Schools.

“The enrollment has been down between 4 to 6 percent," says Jennings. "The waiting lists are not there. If schools are full, they don’t have waiting lists to fall back on.”

She says schools have had to increase financial aid to maintain enrollment. That means giving money to more families and giving each family a larger award. In many cases, parents still can’t swing the $25,000 dollar price tag for some schools, so they’re looking elsewhere. 

“Many parents are not willing to put their children in public schools, so what they’re doing is finding less expensive private schools for them to enroll in,” says Jennings.

A lot of parents are even opting for home school. Jennings says that's caused homeschool to swell by 75-percent across the country.

For families who can still afford their choice of schools, there could be an upside to all of this. Kids are more likely to get in to even the most competitive schools. The opportunity might not last long. Jennings expects enrollment to bounce back in the next couple of years as the economy strengthens.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.