Private Schools Could Ease Enrollment Crunch

Published February 1, 1999

The problem of overcrowded public schools facing 22 urban communities across the country could be alleviated for a public investment of about $4,575 per pupil by making use of up to 150,000 available seats at private schools in those communities, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education. In nine communities where detailed data were collected, overcrowding in public school districts could be reduced by nearly 25 percent–but only if participating private schools could maintain their existing policies in such areas as curriculum, admissions, and assessment.

While public schools are overcrowded, many of the private schools in the 22 communities studied have enrollments well below their full capacity, according to the 168-page report, entitled Barriers, Benefits and Costs of Using Private Schools to Alleviate Overcrowding in Public Schools: Final Report. About one-third of the private schools operate at between 70 and 90 percent of capacity, and another one-third operate below 70 percent of capacity. Private schools potentially could accommodate an additional 150,000 students.

However, the willingness of private schools to participate in a transfer program depends on what conditions may be attached to the program. While most private schools would participate if their current curriculum, admissions, assessment, and other policies could be retained without change, far fewer would be interested if transfer program provisions affected those policies, reducing the number of available spaces to between 33,000 and 101,000.

If schools could retain their current policies, the estimated first-year cost of a transfer program totals $4,575 per student: $2,900 for average private school tuition cost; $600 for transportation; $500 for categorical services; $150 for private school registration and other fees; $200 for program administration; and $125 for an evaluation of the program’s impact.

The full 168-page report, requested by Congress to help communities find the buildings and teachers required to cope with surging student enrollment, is available from the U.S. Department of Education by calling toll-free 1-877-4-ED-PUBS.

For more information …

A summary of the U.S. Department of Education Report, Barriers, Benefits and Costs of Using Private Schools to Alleviate Overcrowding in Public Schools: Final Report is available through PolicyBot. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for old document #2165303 (4 pp.).