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CT Private Schools Received Millions in Federal Pandemic Loans

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Among the more controversial recipients of coronavirus federal funding are private schools - some of them elite and some of them in our state.

NBC Connecticut Investigates also recently shared data that showed companies that took Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money and cut staff.

Paycheck Protection Program data reviewed by NBC Connecticut Investigates indicated at least 19 private secondary schools in Connecticut took millions of dollars in PPP money. This applies to places like Avon Old Farms, Kingswood Oxford, and Norwich Free Academy, which said on their website they’re a blend of a private and public school.

Norwich Free Academy said in part “…receipt of this loan preserved more than 300 jobs at Norwich Free Academy…”

Kingswood Oxford said in part that the PPP “…provides additional employment security going into an uncertain school year.”

Avon Old Farms said in part the PPP money helped it “…continue uninterrupted support for our faculty and employees and ongoing operations.”

The other 16 schools declined our request for comment.

Ashley Harrington with the Center for Responsible Lending wondered why private schools got millions while many small, female, and minority-owned businesses did not receive PPP loans.

“For me what that does, is just highlight the disparities in access that we’ve seen throughout the program,” Harrington said.

Neil Campbell, director of innovation for education at The Center for American Progress, said while private schools did qualify for PPP loans, the hastily put-together $661-billion program was not meant for many of them. 

“It’s not clear that they’re actually feeling the financial pressures from there, the folks that are able to write $30,000 to $40,000 annual tuition checks,” Campbell said.

NBC Connecticut Investigates found at least 11 of the Connecticut private secondary schools that took PPP money have tuition in that range or higher, based on information posted on their websites.

Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at The American Enterprise Institute, though, said he believes well-heeled private schools are the exception rather than the rule and most provide lots of jobs in the community, need to keep up their campuses during the pandemic shutdown, and could use the financial help.

“There’s 35,000 private schools in the U.S….a fraction of 1% are these fancy places that you’ve heard about,” Hess said.

Hess added there should be stringent standards for what schools should be eligible for PPP funding. 

“If we’re talking about a private school that’s charging tuition of $15,000 to $16,000 a year, I’m inclined to let them fend for themselves,” he said.

Even Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has helped oversee the Paycheck Protection Program, tweeted “Some private schools with significant endowments have taken PPP loans. They should return them.”

He reminded people at a news conference that when it comes to PPP loans, which are forgivable if employers maintain certain staff levels, that “any loan that’s over two million dollars will have a full review for forgiveness.”

Three of the 19 secondary private schools provided a comment to NBC Connecticut Investigates. See the full statements below.

Avon Old Farms: "In light of actual and anticipated revenue shortfalls and mounting financial uncertainty associated with COVID-19, Avon Old Farms acceptance of funds under the Paychecks Protection Program will allow the school to continue uninterrupted support for our faculty and employees and ongoing operations in a manner that is not detrimental to our mission while protecting the long-term financial health of the school."

Kingswood Oxford: “Given the high percentage of donor-restrictions on endowment spending, Kingswood Oxford is grateful to have qualified for PPP funding which ensured we could keep all faculty and staff fully employed this past spring and provides additional employment security going into an uncertain school year.”

Norwich Free Academy: "Receipt of this loan preserved more than 300 jobs at Norwich Free Academy and allowed our focus to remain on how to best pivot during this challenging time so we could continue to provide our students with an education in a way that has never been done before."

Below are the most recent IRS form 990's available for each private school, according to The schools without link outs are religious organizations.

For a list of all Connecticut Paycheck Protection Program recipients, view the chart below.

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