(even if your school is closed)
Over the past couple of weeks with school closures due to the COVID-19 emergency, school leaders and parents have voiced concerns to me about school tuition.
“Several families have requested tuition refunds since we are closed and not offering our contracted services,” said one head of school.
“Why should I pay for something that I’m not getting?” parents say, while also voicing the concern that their jobs and income are in jeopardy.
We are in untrodden territory. We don’t know how or when this COVID-19 story and economic disruption ends.
From my point of view, we need to take a deep breath and think about this:
When all this settles down what do we want to have still standing?
The reality is that our private schools and daycares are small businesses that run on a thin margin with little or no reserves.
Even a week’s lost income places most small businesses into a precarious position. No income after two weeks becomes dire. After a month, there may be no business left to reopen.
March is traditionally the time of the year when schools finalize details for the upcoming school year. Student contracts are wrapped up, which leads to faculty contracts being offered for the next school year.
With no employment contracts in hand by late April, faculty most likely will begin looking for other jobs.
With no school and childcare available by mid-April, most families will search for long-term alternatives.
By May 1 many private schools’ prospects for the next school year may be nil, with not enough student and faculty contracts to open their doors in the fall.
What do we want to be there?
If you want your child’s school and your child’s teacher to be there in a month and next year, pay your tuition, today, even though at this moment you may not feel that you are receiving value.
School leaders, be transparent with your school community about the financial realities and challenges you face so you can work together to make sure that your school community survives after the COVID-19 alarms quiet.
See my additional comments below.
I have a few friends who are dealing with this issue at their centers! Timely article!!
Thanks, Maren. A wonderful message and we feel grateful that our small school has many parents who feel the same way 🙂
If the parents allocated resources (money) for education services and now must pay for childcare for the same time period (essentially pay double), where do they get these additional funds? Is “saving a school” worth many families losing their shirts? And where will the faculty be hired? At other closed schools or businesses? Continuing to pay tuition when no legitimate services are being rendered is “nice”, but not feasible for most families. Feel good words – but out-of-touch with reality.
I think parents want the schools to succeed. The problem is that many parents have lost their jobs or are suffering from income reduction at this time. For many, it’s not a question of wanting to pay, it’s simply not having the means.
Very Timely Indeed!
How can you ask a parent to pay tuition when she just has lost her job, needs to pay for grocery, doesn’t have any support, and has to teach her child at home? We cater to the middle class and I know a lot of my parents cannot afford to pay. I know that distant learning is even more challenging than working in the classroom. It’s very new in our Montessori world. As a private school we have to support our parents, not because we just want them to come back, but because they need us. Teachers should not expect full pay, there has to be some sort of discount. Parents didn’t sign up for on line teaching. We can’t charge for a service that we are not providing. My two cents.
Why are you placing the financial stability of these institutions over the financial stability of the families that they serve?
I am currently paying for a pay kindergarten that has offered no distance learning and no send home work.
I find your view naive.
In 2001 after 9/11 my school didn’t have any new enrollment for almost a year. Families wanted to keep their 3 to 5-year-olds home.
If I hadn’t had the personal resources to cover the deficit of the school’s budget of those 16 to 20 enrollments, the school would have had to close.
During the financial melt-down in 2008 (the Great Recession) Montessori schools, along with other small private schools, lost 25% of their enrollment, almost overnight.
Over the next 18 months about a quarter of Montessori schools in the United States closed their doors due to this change in enrollment and thus income.
During this time I consulted with numerous schools on how to deal with this new reality.
The schools that survived made drastic changes to their school programs quickly, eliminating money losing programs, laying off teachers and other staff, and restructuring their schools.
The surviving schools also had some financial resources in terms of reserves, charitable donations, along with leadership who could make tough decisions quickly.
Most small independent schools, as are most families, are just one month’s income away from financial disaster.
My purpose of this article is to let school communities of families, teachers and school leaders understand that, yes, there is a serious financial situation here, and that we need to work together.
When this situation settles down, the odds are not good that your child’s child care center or school will be there without your support.
Communication is key.
School leaders need to be transparent about the financial needs of their school.
If families are able to financially support their schools, they should. If they can’t, families should communicate that to their school leaders so school leaders can make decisions to the benefit of the entire the school community.
From the WSJ, March 26, 2020
“We haven’t seen this big of a free fall before,” said Keith Hall, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and adviser to President George W. Bush. “Not even during the Depression…It’s really like an instant Great Recession.”
As voiced above, I also have issues with this approach. My concerns are less economical (thankfully) but more educationally based (for the most part). While I greatly appreciate the model of learning taught within the Montessori classroom, it has been a nightmare attempting to bridge the gap and imo “IF” that lack of ability to adapt exists within the schools, then the Montessori method has failed it’s original intention.
I agree with Maren that parents are hungry for the school’s viewpoint; what do we need and why. Some parents can help and some can’t; but unless we’re clear with them they won’t know what we’re hoping for and what’s at stake. I don’t think we can say that Montessori education has “failed to adapt” because people are still struggling to figure things out after a few weeks of a major pandemic like none of us has personally experienced before. On the contrary, I am blown away by how quickly the movement is coming together with ingenuity and generosity. Thanks for lifting us up with your wise words Maren!
You are correct, these are uncharted waters in which we find ourselves, and parents, the administration and teachers must all work together – as needs allow – to see schools through this crisis.
I do however believe that the pain must be shared across all parties. Costs must be minimised. Salaries renegotiated. Government grants and rent reductions requested.
This would allow lower tuition to be asked of parents.
Both the administration and the teachers must look at the universe of options for teachers to remunerated, even if it means laying off staff for an interim, with a view to staff receiving unemployment benefits. Staff can be re-hired when schools re-open. The parental contribution can be minimized greatly.
None of these options is either ideal or easy, however that parents bear 100% of the burden is untenable. It is not enough just for schools to be honest, they need to get creative.
Schools need to first use the help that the Government has provided to provide a loan that works like a grant to small businesses and reduce / waive tuition for families. At the same time request families to donate to support the school if they can while the school is shut.
I was annoyed by my school because they asked parents to pay the full tuition but laid off half the staff at the same time. I would have been ok to pay to support the school if they supported their staff. Communication and transparency is equally important as parents are expected to support the school for services they did not sign up for!