Education

Private schools in Kentucky may have received as much as $64 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

The biggest private school recipients were some of Louisville’s most elite Catholic schools. Sacred Heart Schools, St. Xavier High School, and Trinity High School each received loans between $2-$5 million. The data released by the U.S. Small Business Administration gives the range for loans over $150,000, but not the exact amount.

Using the ranges given, the data shows Kentucky private schools received between $29 million and $64 million in PPP loans.

PPP loans are forgivable, meaning they don’t have to be repaid if employers meet certain requirements. They are meant to help employers to keep their staff on payroll and stay in business during the pandemic. Employers can use them to cover payroll costs and some overhead expenses such as utilities and mortgage or rent. If employers keep their workers on payroll and don’t reduce their wages, they don’t have to pay back the loan.

It’s not clear how significant a drop in revenues private schools are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesperson for the Louisville Archdiocese, Cecelia Price, said in general, Louisville Catholic schools continued operating through the spring, using online classes, and charging regular tuition. But revenues did dip, according to Price.

“Tuition at all levels does not cover the cost of the education provided, and schools are reliant on parish subsidies or other income sources, such as fund-raising, all of which were put at risk due to COVID-19,” Price wrote in an email to WFPL News.

Price said weekly parish giving was impacted because churchgoers are unable to gather for in-person worship, and that other fundraisers, like parish picnics, were canceled.

“In addition, many schools had to work with families who had sudden economic challenges because of COVID-19 and related unemployment, and so tuition collection also was affected,” Price wrote.

 

Trinity High School president Rob Mullen told WFPL the school received a PPP loan of $2.1 million. He said the intent was to preserve jobs during a “drop in revenue,” but declined to say how much the school’s revenues had declined, or why.

“The intent of the Act was to preserve jobs which we have been able to do despite experiencing a drop in revenue during the spring. Until the first day of school next month we will not know what the revenue (tuition collection) picture looks like for 2020-2021,” he wrote in an email to WFPL News.

St. Xavier High School’s vice president for advancement Mike Littell said the school applied for the loan because of “many unknowns” given the pandemic, including donor activity, enrollment implications and market downtown.

“Any of these could adversely impact operations and the student experience,” Littell wrote in an email to WFPL News.

Littell also said the PPP funding “came at a time when the school was refunding a portion of fees previously collected, including athletic tickets, busing, parking, student events, and meal plans, as well as dealing with families who were financially impacted by the pandemic and could no longer afford tuition payments.”

St. Xavier received a loan between $2-$5 million. Littell said he did not know how much the school’s revenues had been impacted because the fiscal year had only recently ended. He did not provide an estimate.

Sacred Heart Schools, St. Francis Schools, and Louisville Collegiate Academy did not immediately respond to emails asking why they needed the forgivable loans.

Ky. Private Schools Receive Share Of Federal K-12 Coronavirus Funding

In addition to the PPP loans, many private schools stand to collect millions of dollars in federal relief funding for K-12 schools through the federal CARES Act. The Kentucky Department of Education and Governor’s office have received around $223 million in federal funding to distribute to K-12 schools. Guidance from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says school districts have to share that funding with private schools that apply for aid. In Jefferson County, for example, about 16% of the $35.6 million federal coronavirus relief funding the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) received is expected to go to private schools — that’s about $5.7 million.

Several states have sued the U.S. Department of Education over the guidance, but Kentucky is not one of them.

WFPL News requested records showing which private schools requested CARES Act money, but JCPS declined to provide the documents, saying the applications are preliminary and haven’t been approved. A spokesperson for JCPS asked WFPL News to ask for the applications again once they are approved.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.