Private Schooling after a Year of COVID-19: How the Private Sector Has Fared and How to Keep It Healthy

16 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2021

See all articles by Neal McCluskey

Neal McCluskey

Center for Educational Freedom

Date Written: April 13, 2021


As COVID-19 struck the United States in March 2020, sending the nation into lockdown, worry about the fate of private schools was high. These schools, which only survive if people can pay for them, seemed to face deep trouble. Many private schools have thin financial margins even in good economic times and rely not only on tuition but also on fundraisers, such as in‐​person auctions, to make ends meet. When the pandemic hit, many such events were canceled, and churches no longer met in person, threatening contributions that help support some private schools. Simultaneously, many private schooling families faced tighter finances, making private schooling less affordable. Finally, families that could still afford private schooling might have concluded that continuing to pay for education that was going to be online‐​only made little sense.

To gauge how the private schooling sector has fared amid the coronavirus pandemic, Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom launched the COVID-19 Permanent Private School Closures tracker. The tracker attempts to capture all private schools that announced permanent closure—not just temporary closure of a building to in‐​person education—with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic having at least partially driven the decision. The tracker includes school names, closure announcement dates, tuition levels, school type, student demographics, and more. In addition, the Center for Educational Freedom has collected data on private schools that have closed without the pandemic as a contributing factor and has attempted to gauge the effect of COVID-19 on overall private school enrollment.

This paper provides data on private school closures one year after the first reported COVID‐​19‐​connected closure, covering March 18, 2020, to March 17, 2021. It also discusses overall private schooling vitality, including why the pandemic’s effects on the sector were less dire than many people likely expected, which schools and areas were most affected, and what policies going forward can preserve private schooling for families that desire it.

Keywords: COVID-19, coronavirus, private school, high school, middle school, elementary school, pandemic

JEL Classification: H10, H11, H12, H13, H19, I10, I11, I12, I14, I15, I18, I19, I20, I21, I22, I23, I25, I28, I29

Suggested Citation

McCluskey, Neal, Private Schooling after a Year of COVID-19: How the Private Sector Has Fared and How to Keep It Healthy (April 13, 2021). Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No. 914 (2021), Available at SSRN:

Neal McCluskey (Contact Author)

Center for Educational Freedom ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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