(RNS) A Colorado-based organization of Christian schools is reporting that more than 200 schools closed or merged in its last fiscal year.
As of June 30, 186 schools had closed and 16 had merged, according to the Association of Christian Schools International. That’s up from an average of 150 school closures that the association has reported in previous years.
Janet Stump, a spokeswoman for the schools group, said the U.S. economic crisis also is affecting the number of students who attend the Protestant schools affiliated with the association.
There are now 689,000 students attending its 3,781 schools nationwide, a decrease of 4.5 percent from the previous fiscal year.
“That is the first year it has dropped in the last 10 years,” she said Wednesday (July 22). “(Enrollment has) been growing every year.”
Stump said parents who have lost jobs or are facing other financial crises are choosing to place their students in other schools or teach them at home. Some have opted to take students out of Christian elementary schools but keep older children in Christian high schools.
“Enrollment issues and retention are really tough because our financial base for our schools is tuition,” she said. “During difficult times, tuition becomes optional. There’s a public option.”
(OPTIONAL TRIM FOLLOWS)
Schools in the Western part of the country have been hardest hit, with 50 closing and two merging in California and Hawaii in the last fiscal year. Another 38 closed in the Northeast. In the Southeast, 26 closed and four merged.
Stump said schools with student populations of less than 100 were particularly hard hit.
In response to the dropping numbers, association leaders will continue to work on making Christian schools affordable, in part by helping them find new sources of funding.
“The association is very concerned that it will not become just an association of a small group of well-heeled schools,” she said.