Private schools brace for cuts

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Cuts in state aid to Ohio's parochial and other nonpublic schools might cost parents who could have to make up the lost revenue in tuition increases.

The new two-year state budget slashes $59 million in state aid to the schools, money that helps cover administrative costs, textbooks and other instructional materials.

"It will probably cause a tuition increase, not this year, but possibly next," said Marian Hutson, principal of Bishop Watterson High School on the North Side. With an enrollment of 1,080 and tuition starting at $6,850 a year, Watterson will lose $120,000 in state aid over the next two years.

Hutson noted that funding had been cut last fall as part of an across-the-board reduction in the state budget. With many expecting state revenue to continue falling below projections, she's bracing for another cut this fall. "The dollars will have to come from someplace," Hutson said. "We are very frugal, and we will do everything we can to not increase tuition. We don't want to have tuition at a rate where families cannot pay."

Joyce Schneider, administrator of Grove City Christian School, also is concerned about the prospect of a tuition increase because so many families are coping with lost jobs and stagnant earnings. "We will do what everybody else has to do. We will work to cut our expenses," Schneider said. "But if cuts continue, we will have to look at tuition increases." The school enrolls nearly 700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Passed by the General Assembly last month, the budget reduces aid to nonpublic schools by about 15 percent. "Limited resources were prioritized to the 1.8 million children in public schools," said Amanda Wurst, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Strickland. "Nonpublic schools are taking reductions like nearly every other state program."

Sen. Jim Hughes cited reduced support to parochial and other nonpublic schools as a key reason for his opposition to the budget bill. "These schools are very important to our community," the Columbus Republican said.

Since the mid-1980s, the state has been providing the private and parochial schools with funds for guidance counselors, school nurses, speech and hearing therapists, textbooks, instructional supplies and equipment.

Hughes noted that the budget abolishes a long-standing policy that funding to nonpublic schools mirrors the percentage increase, or decrease, in aid to public schools. The budget reduces state aid to public schools 0.25 percent both this year and next.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio estimates that a nonpublic elementary school of 350 students will lose $50,000 in state aid while a high school of 800 students will lose $114,000. "These cuts undermine the education of thousands of Ohio's young people and threaten to destabilize a system of schools that provides a high-quality education for hundreds of thousands of citizens of this state," said Carolyn Jurkowitz, executive director of the Catholic Conference. The schools, she argued, save taxpayers $2 billion a year in per-student aid that the state would pay if the students were attending public schools.

Earl Oremus, headmaster of Marburn Academy on the North Side, said state aid accounts for about 5 percent of the school's budget. The school, which serves students with dyslexia and attention-deficit disorders, likely will increase fundraising efforts to avoid a tuition increase. "It's not a huge portion of our budget," he said. "But on the other hand, we are a completely tuition-supported school. Our parents don't come here by choice. They come because their children need to be in a setting where they learn better, and a high percentage are on financial aid."