Sunday, October 20, 2002

Tristaters put stock in private schools


Area's enrollment rate among nation's highest

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Whether it's to pursue a better education or to follow family tradition, Greater Cincinnati kids are attending private schools at record-breaking rates.

Nearly one of every four Hamilton County children goes to a private elementary or high school - a higher rate than all but one (St. Louis County) of the nation's 100 largest counties, an Enquirer analysis of 2000 Census data shows.

For a county that's losing population and a city that's trying to improve low-achieving public schools, the fact that 36,684 students go to private schools has important ramifications.

TOP 20 COMMUNITIES FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS
  These Tristate communities* have the highest percentage of children attending private schools. Area and percentage:
• 1. Covedale, 64.4%
• 2. Villa Hills, 55.4%
• 3. Edgewood, 48.2%
• 4. Green Township, 44.1%
• 5. Delhi Township, 41.9%
• 6. Cheviot, 38.3%
• 7. Village of Indian Hill, 36.3
• 8. Alexandria, 33.7%
• 9. Fort Mitchell, 33.7%
• 10. Taylor Mill, 30.8%
• 11. Covington**, 30.4%
• 12. Reading, 30.3%
• 13. Mount Healthy, 30.2%
• 14. Colerain Township, 27.5%
• 15. Kenwood, 26.6%
• 16. Anderson Township, 26.5%
• 17. Bellevue, 26.1%
• 18. North College Hill, 26.1%
• 19. Loveland, 24.6%
• 20. Springfield Twp., 24.6%
  *Areas where at least 1,000 children are enrolled in school grades 1-12
  **Includes unincorporated area surrounding the city of Covington
Some say private schools hurt communities because they draw the wealthiest and brightest students away from public schools, leaving them poorly equipped to deal with a range of urban ills.

But highly regarded private schools also may act as magnets, keeping people here. Without them, more families might leave the county for high-performing schools elsewhere, further draining the region's central core.

"Parochial schools are an important choice," says David Varady, a University of Cincinnati planning professor. "I don't think the significance of the private-school option is given enough importance. All the focus is on public schools."

The Enquirer's analysis shows that during the 1990s, the number of Hamilton County children attending public school grew less than 1 percent - while private-school enrollment swelled 16.3 percent.

In the city of Cincinnati, the trend was just as evident. The number of children attending public schools dropped 7.9 percent, faster than the 6.1 percent drop overall for school-age kids. At the same time, the number of students attending private schools grew 1.8 percent, even as tuition rates at some private high schools rose to more than $10,000 a year.

LOW 20 COMMUNITIES FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS
  These Tristate communities* have the lowest percentage of kids attending private school. Area and percentage:
• 1. Monroe Township, 1.5%
• 2. Ohio Township, 3.3%
• 3. Oxford, 3.7%
• 4. St. Clair Township, 4.5%
• 5. Franklin, 5%
• 6. Lincoln Heights, 5.5%
• 7. Trenton, 5.7%
• 8. Wayne Township, 6.1%
• 9. Tate Township, 6.8%
• 10. Franklin Township, 7%
• 11. Mason, 7%
• 12. Morgan Township, 7.2%
• 13. Lemon Township, 7.9%
• 14. Wyoming, 8.5%
• 15. Dayton, Ky. 8.7%
• 16. Monroe, 9.1%
• 17. Whitewater Township, 9.1%
• 18. Madison Township, 9.1%
• 19. Middletown, 9.4%
• 20. Hamilton Township, 10%
  *Areas where at least 1,000 children are enrolled in school grades 1-12
  SOURCE: Enquirer analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data
Household income and stability, race and local public school quality all influence enrollment in private schools. Among findings:

Cincinnati's most stable neighborhoods, as measured by household income and homeownership rates, tend to have a higher percentage of children attending private schools. In the affluent east-side neighborhoods of Hyde Park and Mount Lookout, more than 7 out of 10 children attend private schools. Conversely, struggling neighborhoods like Lower Price Hill, East End and Winton Hills have virtually no students attending private schools.

Relatively few African-American families send children to private schools, and the rates are even lower in poorer black neighborhoods. More than two of every five white children attend private school in Cincinnati, compared to fewer than one in 10 black children.

The popularity of private schools extends to older river towns in Kentucky's Campbell and Kenton counties. Both Covington and Bellevue have low-achieving public schools - and high rates of private school enrollment.

The ratio of private-school students drops off dramatically in nearby Ohio counties with high-achieving schools. Only 12-13 percent of kids in Warren and Butler counties go to private school. And in Hamilton County communities with excellent public schools, such as Blue Ash and Wyoming , few kids attend private schools.

Catholic influence

Greater Cincinnati has one of the widest selections of private schools in the United States. Schools range from tiny St. Michael's elementary in Ripley with just 43 students last year, to St. Xavier in Finneytown, a high school with a strong academic reputation that draws more than 1,400 boys from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana each year.

The Catholic influence is strongly felt, and the church runs most of the private schools in Hamilton County: 15 high schools and 61 elementary schools. The archdiocese reports a 10 percent increase in enrollment for all of its Southwestern Ohio schools since 1990, but some schools with strong traditions and ties to the community did even better.

Elder High School in West Price Hill, for example, saw its enrollment jump more than 21 percent in the past decade, to 1,008 today.

Parents weigh many options when deciding where to send their children to school, and quality of public schools is only one factor. Scholastic reputation of the private school, its religion curriculum and family tradition also play important roles.

Charlie DeSando, a Hyde Park resident, sends his two sons to St. Mary's elementary school in Hyde Park. The decision had less to do with academics than the school's emphasis on religion education.

Mr. DeSando and his wife, both Catholic, wanted religion lessons taught along with classes on reading and writing.

"I don't think there is a bad sense about public schools," Mr. DeSando says. "It is just that the parents went to private school, and there is not a lot of change in this city.

"From a Hyde Park standpoint, the public schools are excellent."

The east side neighborhood's public elementary schools, Hyde Park and Kilgour in nearby Mount Lookout, are both highly regarded. Kilgour even captured the prestigious 2000-2001 national U.S. Department of Education's Blue Ribbon School award, the only urban school in America to do so.

Yet Mr. DeSando knows few neighbors who send children to those public elementary schools. None of his neighbors' children attend the nearest public high school, Withrow High School, although some send their kids to Walnut Hills High School, a renowned public school that attracts students from across the region.

On the west side, most kids living in Covedale and parts of Green Township and Delhi Township attend private school, too.

Dent resident Ray Broxterman wants his son to follow him at Elder High School, his alma mater.

"There was no question, he (Ray) was going to Elder," says Mr. Broxterman, who counts seven brothers as Elder graduates. "They really instill values: work values, religious values and family values where you stick together, and the value of the school itself."

For Mr. Broxterman, the intangible qualities of an Elder education include being part of a larger community. Those kinds of things, he says, are just as important as family tradition and scholastic reputation. He worries, too, about the influence of peers and lack of discipline in public schools.

Many of his neighbors feel the same way. On Mr. Broxterman's street alone, there are five Elder grads. It creates a common bond, a sense of community, he says.

Competition

Cincinnati Public Schools officials say private schools' success will make public schools improve.

"We have been well aware of it and have been working hard to make our schools more competitive," says Jan Leslie, city schools spokeswoman. "You can't say parochial schools are taking over."

The cornerstone of the district's effort to improve is an ambitious $1 billion plan to build 35 new schools and renovate 31 others over the next decade. The new and refurbished buildings should lure back some families who otherwise would send their children to private schools, Ms. Leslie says.

The school district will ask voters on Nov. 5 to approve a $480 million bond issue to help fund the school rebuilding. The state would contribute $210 million, and the remainder would come from the school district.

Cincinnati isn't the only public school system facing stiff competition from private schools. School districts in Newport and Covington also have a difficult time attracting students living within their districts.

Some worry that private schools have the effect of siphoning students from wealthier backgrounds. That leaves schools in the city and older suburbs with a higher percentage of children from poor families.

"It is difficult," says Jack Moreland, superintendent of Covington Independent Schools, where about 80 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. "The population that is left is a population that has certain issues to deal with."

Public school advocates worry that problems could multiply if voucher systems in Ohio and Kentucky are expanded. The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld Cleveland's voucher program, which uses taxpayer money to pay for children's education in religious or other private schools.

Mr. Moreland says enrollment trends indicate that a voucher system isn't needed in Cincinnati. The area's high enrollment rates prove that those who want to send their children to private schools can find the means to do it.

"Whether there are vouchers are not, they are going to send their children to private schools," he says.

Not all agree. Vouchers could be a powerful alternative for African-American families who don't have means or desire to move out of urban neighborhoods, says Cleaster Mims, president and chief executive officer of Marva Collins Preparatory School in Roselawn and Silverton.

Ms. Mims, a former public school teacher, started her private school 13 years ago to serve what she saw as a void of educational choices - private or public - for African-American children.

"I started the school 13 years ago to try and supply the needs of African-American parents," Ms. Mims says. "Regardless of how poor the parents are, they tend to want something better for their children."

E-mail kalltucker@enquirer.com

Monday story: $10K-plus tuition worth it, private-school parents say



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