Ep. 185: The Monthly Debrief – April Looking to May 2020

May 29, 2020

In this Monthly Debrief podcast, EdChoice’s President and CEO Robert Enlow chats with Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). They discuss the state of private schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert Enlow: Hello and welcome to another podcast from EdChoice. This is our EdChoice Monthly Debrief podcast. Usually it’s about the states and what’s going on in the states related to school of choice. As you know, there’ve been so many positive developments around the country and states to give parents more freedom. That of course was until early March. And now everyone is about the COVID pandemic crisis all day long. This is 24/7/365, and that’s because this is a huge crisis on our states and our nation, and frankly, on our private schools and on families.

And so we’re really excited today to have someone join us. Who’s a good friend of ours and who basically knows private schooling inside and out. Michael Schuttloffel, who’s the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, CAPE. Hi Mike, and tell us a little bit about CAPE and what’s going on.

Michael Schuttloffel: Sure. Well, thank you very much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. I just shoved the gallon of hydroxychloroquine as an afternoon pick me up. So, I’m ready to go. Happy to talk to you. Always excited to be with friends at EdChoice. I am the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, or CAPE for short. CAPE is a coalition of national organizations and state affiliates serving private K-12 schools.

Our national member organizations cover the whole spectrum of private schools. We have Catholic school networks, Protestant schools, Jewish schools, Islamic schools. We also have several secular schools. CAPE member organizations represent more than 80 percent of private school enrollment nationwide. And we also have state affiliates in 37 states who are doing absolutely outstanding work.

Robert Enlow: Perfect. You know, Mike, that puts you in a great position to help share with our listenership what the heck is going on in private schooling around all this COVID crisis. So, I mean, my first question to you as a national leader in this is, so what has been the impact on private schooling and private education from this whole coronavirus? What has been the impact on private schools and how have they responded in your opinion?

Michael Schuttloffel: Yeah, well, it’s been an extraordinarily serious situation for private schools and many private schools are facing a grave, even an existential situation. As you know, private schools don’t receive the gigantic subsidy that the taxpayers provide to public schools. Private schools depend upon tuition and philanthropy and there’s the rub. Many parents have reduced or completely stopped paying tuition.

Some private schools are finishing the year operating in the red and may not be able to reopen. The number of registrations for the next school year is down. And it makes sense. I mean, parents aren’t re-enrolling in many cases because of lost jobs and fears, they won’t be able to afford tuition. A lot of schools have had to cancel those spring fundraisers that are so crucial to the school finances. And then many private schools are affiliated with churches and donations to churches are down, which stands to reason because people haven’t been able to go to church.

And so those church finances are very much tied to the finances of many private schools. So, it’s a very serious situation that we’re concerned about. That said, I do think it’s fair to say that private schools have done a remarkable job of stepping up in many different ways. There’s not been a single across the board approach the private schools have taken.

I have kids in a private school. They’ve done an admirable job of trying to transition to online, remote learning, and they’ve changed their approach over the last two months in constant state of responsiveness to parents.

So, I think that flexibility, that responsiveness to parents, that fact that private schools are used to having to serve a customer has served them very well in these extremely challenging times. But people are losing their jobs. The economy is entering recession, hopefully not worse, hopefully not depression. And the consequences for private schools are just incredibly severe.

Robert Enlow: Mike, it’s kind of this amazing thing. We’ve seen, we’ve been tracking at EDChoice the verified school closers, and we’re up to around 30, right of verified maybe 35 unverified. We just saw in report in the Huffington Post today of a 100 Catholic schools closing, right? These are tragic numbers for families and for schools around the country who serve communities in mostly low-income communities.

But on the other hand, as you said, these private schools have been responding immensely well, right? So, we did a polling of private school leaders, thanks to your support and your help and found some amazing information, right? So, like barely half of them were online learning prior to the crisis, but now fully, almost 90 percent of them have an online formal curriculum for their classes and are finishing the year.

So, it’s this incredible dichotomy where they’re facing extinction and a serious existential threat while they’re providing this incredible service. So your schools have been doing amazing work with families. Mike, give us a story of how your schools responded.

Michael Schuttloffel: Yeah, so it’s interesting. The private school that my children attend is not the kind of school where they’re passing out iPads the first day of school, to say the least. It is a school where they’re not basing their curriculum on technology. There’s no cell phones allowed on the campus on the students’ parts. They’re not using iPads in class or anything like that.

So, it’s a more of a classical liberal arts, great books approach and yet they shifted on a dime and saw what had to be done, have demonstrated tremendous flexibility in what are truly emergency circumstances. This is a national emergency. And instead of digging in their heels and saying, “This isn’t our model.” They’ve transitioned to an entirely technology-based approach and have done a great job.

Now, how long that can last as an effective solution? That’s very much open to question, but certainly for two or three months’ time, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how quickly they were able to shift and adapt. And even over these two months, the approach they’ve taken has adapted. There’s just a lot of flexibility.

Robert Enlow: That’s a perfect example. So, our data is showing that 90 percent of private schools have responded like that. Whereas I heard a number from the traditional sector that with all of their billions of dollars in states, there is still less than 80 percent of them that have gotten to a formal curriculum. In fact, many of them aren’t even doing school more than two days a week, right? And it’s just. interesting the response between the public and private sector.

And as we know, states have been in chaos around all of this, right? So what has been the response by the federal government? So the federal government stepped in trying to help in this crisis and what have they done specifically, and how’s it helpful for private schools and what are the challenges?

Michael Schuttloffel: Sure. Well, as you know, I think it was March 27. The president signed legislation passed by Congress that is referred to as the CARES Act. The CARES Act is essentially the largest bill in the history of the country. It was a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that included $30 billion for K-12 programs to ensure the continuity of students’ education across the country. And to make sure that when people do return to physical classroom space, that they can do so in a safe environment, whether it’s the students or the teachers.

So, that $30 billion pot is divided up in a few ways, but the two big, important pieces that have garnered a lot of attention are the Governor’s Fund, where governors had a lot of flexibility how to use that money. And then there’s a pot of about 13 billion that is to go out to the states and onto the LEAs, the school districts to be able to provide schools with the support they need again to maintain continuity in education and eventually to have a safe operating space.

So, that’s all very positive. Private schools were included in that package. Under the law, private schools are required to receive equitable services for those funds that go out to the LEAs. And so we were very pleased to see that. We were grateful that Congress rejected attempts to exclude private schools because there were efforts made in that regard to cut us out.

Robert Enlow: I’m guessing they made those efforts, Michael. They said, “Hey, we want to cut out private schools because rich people go to private schools.” Forgetting of course, that a lot of rich people go to suburban public schools, right?

Michael Schuttloffel: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And also apparently forgetting that parents who send their children to private schools are still taxpayers.

Robert Enlow: That’s correct. That’s right. That’s exactly right. So look, now it’s been great with the U.S. Department of Education and Congress has done and you guys have been out there promoting in CAPE. But not every state chief has done a really good job or responded properly. What are the recalcitrant chiefs doing? How are they screwing this up?

Michael Schuttloffel: Yeah. So, that’s an interesting story, Robert. The law has passed specified and I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here, but the law specified that a Title I allocation would be used as far as the funding would go out to the states and then onto the LEAs. The law was silent on what sort of allocation needed to be used once the money left the LEA and went out to the school level, and the student level.

USDOE has to implement this program because it goes through the U.S. Department of Education. So USDE issued guidance on how this would all work and the USDOE guidance properly recognized that the CARES Act is not a Title I program, but is instead an emergency relief bill. So, USDOE ruled that all private school students would be eligible for these emergency services. And this makes sense, not only because the CARES Act is not a Title I program, but because many of the uses of funds under the CARES Act are not compatible with the Title I approach.

On the other hand, a lot of the state education departments were hoping that it would be a Title I approach all the way down, because then that would mean fewer private schools would get to participate. And that would be more money for the public schools. So, some state departments of education have rejected the guidance, have said they refuse to follow the federal guidance on a federal program with federal money and that they’re going to go their own way on this.

Robert Enlow: So, I have to apologize, Mike, because one of those recalcitrant chiefs is our very own superintendent of public instruction in Indiana, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, who, by the way, started off as a choice supporter and has now turning about face because I think she’s not in a position to be as supportive as she once was. I won’t describe motives to her, but I’ll say she’s not, and we’re doing everything we can to do this.

And what I think the shocking thing is, is she’s interpreting the law the way you said around Title I, but it’s an emergency funding bill, right? And it’s like, she’s saying, “Hey, if I were in charge of the funding for the New Orleans Katrina relief, I would only give it to some people, not all of them.”

I mean it’s shocking what she’s actually saying, she’s saying, “An emergency relief bill shouldn’t go to certain people.” And we find that quite reprehensible. And I know that there are what? Seven others that we’ve heard that are doing this or are there more now?

Michael Schuttloffel: They’re proliferating by the minute seemingly, and it’s surprising which states are going in this direction. Mississippi is one, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Massachusetts is following the guidance. So, it kind of cuts across ideological boundaries. But as you say, this is a very stark departure from how emergencies have been handled in the past. When there were the circumstances of hurricanes or wildfires or something like that, it was obvious Congress acted on the basis of the needs of all students who were affected and they weren’t excluding certain groups of people in that emergency assistance.

And again, it just doesn’t work. So, with coronavirus, one of the uses of the funds from the emergency relief is for cleaning and sanitizing classroom space. So, are we only going to clean and sanitize the Title I kids desk, but not the desk next to his, because we don’t think he’s eligible? He doesn’t have the right residency requirements and income requirements. It just doesn’t work that way. And it’s not going to work that way in the public schools.

They have no intention of doing things that way than the public schools yet. They’re trying to impose that approach on the private schools, all in the name of securing greater levels of funding.

Robert Enlow: It’s crazy, right? And in fact, I mean, I unfortunately did a Holiday Inn Express tour of a Title I funding and if anyone wants to do it and get amazingly shocked by how bad this funding formula is. You could find out that there are schools that you could have two kids out of a 100 who are Title I eligible, and the entire school will get Title I funding for every kid. And there are schools where you have 50 kids out of a 100 that are Title I eligible, and no one in the school will get money right now.
I mean, it’s a messed up system and it wasn’t intended to be used as a way to shut out emergency relief. But that said, Michael, right, you are the voice of private schools around the country. So, your board is the voice of 80 percent of the students. What would you tell them? What would you tell our listeners to do? What would you tell our private schools to do in this crisis time?

Michael Schuttloffel: Sure. Well, they need to immediately get in touch with their elected officials at the state level and especially at the federal level and tell them that they expect, first of all, that their state department of education follow the rules on this as laid out by the U.S. Department of Education. And also crucially, there’s going to be another round of relief we think in Congress at some point in the next couple months and opponents of private education already have their pedal to the metal, trying to exclude private schools from any relief whatsoever.

The House passed legislation last week that is widely seen as just a marker and a beginning point of negotiations with the Senate. It’s not a bill that’s going to become law. It’s not going to get passed by the Senate side. Nonetheless, it was approved by the US House of Representatives and it totally excludes private schools. Just completely cuts us out. Sends the message that private schools are not important. They don’t need relief in a time of national emergency that their students and teachers can just fend for themselves.

That’s really bad. So, your elected representatives need to hear that that is an unacceptable approach. The bill passed by the US House of Representatives last week was so bad in fact, they actually in that bill go back, reopen the CARES Act from March and restrict the eligibility of private school students and teachers to those services that we’ve been talking about. So, it’s not enough that going forward, private schools will be left out in the cold, but that bill on the House side actually tries to retroactively harm private schools from what’s already been passed by Congress.

So, people need to get in touch with their representatives and say, “Hey, private schools are hurting. We’ve got parents who are taxpayers. They pay twice for their education, ones through taxes, ones through tuition.” Private schools want their students and teachers to be safe. They want their students to have continuity in education and they shouldn’t be excluded.

Robert Enlow: Yep. Sounds like what the speaker of the House of Representatives and Randi Weingarten are saying to the American private school family is let them eat cake. Right? Right? And that’s just unacceptable. And we really appreciate, Mike, what you’ve been doing at CAPE to be the voice up there on Capitol Hill. What other things can groups like ours and other groups around the country, other SPN groups do to help you?

Michael Schuttloffel: Well, I want to take the opportunity to compliment you on the outstanding work that EdChoice has been doing. You’ve done research into what the costs would be to the public sector if the private sector start to close. So, if private schools close, it’s not just the parents and students in private schools that suffer who won’t have those options, won’t have those choices anymore. But the public sector will feel the brunt of that fact very much so.

The taxpayers will feel it because if hundreds of thousands or even millions of private school students have to show up in the fall in public school classrooms at a time when we’re supposed to be social distancing on this, I mean, there’s going to be a bill that comes with that. Private school parents are already paying their taxes. If you take your kid out of private school and send them to public school, your taxes don’t increase.

So, your kid is going to the public school with no new dollars. So, the taxpayers are going to have to pay the consequences of that. And local governments and state governments are already asking Congress in this next round of relief for emergency aid, because they’re not going to be able to pay the bills as it is.

So, if private school students start coming to the public school classrooms, taxpayers are going to feel it. EdChoice has done awesome research into those numbers. That’s data that we’ve used when we talk to members of Congress about this. So, I just want to thank you for your work there. It’s been tremendously helpful.

Robert Enlow: Well, we appreciate that, Mike, and thanks for all your work and we’re going to be there with you all the way along. So this is just chapter one of the COVID crisis in the country and what the private schools are going to deal with. We’re going to look forward to what Congress is going to do in the next three months. And we’re going to be there to talk about how private schools are going to respond open and do what they do best, which is adapt to serve their families. So, thanks for joining us today, Mike. Really appreciate your time.

Michael Schuttloffel: Yeah. Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Robert Enlow: Thanks again for joining us with our Monthly Debrief podcast. You can download it on every single podcast-available mechanism you can get, whether it’s Apple, Google, whatever, you can download it or go to www.edchoice.org and download it there. So, thanks again for joining us and we look forward to talking to you next week.