Many public schools in Baltimore County are already overcrowded and county officials believe that could get worse because of a coming stream of students from private schools.
They are worried that some parents might get priced out of private schools in the COVID-19 economy.
Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, a Democrat, brought up the possibility of more private school students enrolling in public schools at a recent hearing on the school system’s budget.
“I think BCPS offers a very good education and parents will look at their private schools and realize that maybe they can’t afford it at this moment,” Jones said.
Jones cited unemployment as a possible reason. An estimated 87,000 people have filed for unemployment in Baltimore County during the COVID-19 pandemic.
School Superintendent Darryl Williams told Jones they are closely monitoring enrollment.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more families choosing to come to Baltimore County Public Schools from a different school just because of circumstances,” Williams said.
Daraius Irani, chief economist for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, said it will become clearer if that is going to happen when fall tuition bills are due at private schools.
“Schools are expensive, $20,000 to $30,000 a year if I’m not mistaken,” Irani said. “It is a big cost for many households.”
But private schools are taking steps to try to help families who may have lost a job or have had to take a cut in pay.
Matt Micciche, the Head of School at Friends School of Baltimore, said they are trying to make sure that no student has to leave because parents can no longer afford tuition. He said so far none has. Micciche said a couple of donors have given money specifically for tuition assistance for families affected by the COVID-19 economy.
“One of the things that’s really hard for them as they see their children is to imagine having to offer or to cause even more disruption in their lives if they were not able to come back to this community that means so much to them,” Micciche said.
But this shifting of students could go both ways.
Baltimore County has had to move more than 115,000 students to distance learning on a dime in this crisis. There have been problems, such as making sure all students have the curriculum they need and can get online.
Micciche called that heroic work.
But he said Friends is hearing from parents who are exploring whether their children in public school would fare better with the distance learning offered at Friends.
Myra McGovern, the vice president of media at the National Association of Independent Schools, said that is happening at private schools nationwide.
“Some schools are seeing a lot of interest from parents who maybe were dissatisfied with their current schools approach, and really want to make sure that their children have opportunities come fall no matter what happens,” McGovern said.
The possibility of more private school students showing up at the Baltimore County Public Schools’ doors makes officials nervous because they already have crowded schools and there is little they can do about it.
Both the county and state are dealing with massive budget shortfalls because of Covid-19’s effects on the economy. A plan to spend more than $2 billion on school construction statewide has been scuttled.
At the recent budget hearing, Republican Councilman David Marks asked about options.
“More trailers, I guess?” Marks asked.
Pretty much, according to school officials.
Call them what you like: trailers, learning cottages, portables. Superintendent Williams said they don’t have a lot of options.
“We look at movement of classes, movement of students. We look at the learning cottages, the portables,” Williams said.
Enrollment is expected to grow in the county schools whether the private students show up or not.