NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – Some of Nashville’s most prestigious private schools received millions of dollars in forgivable loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
But some schools decided to return the money to the federal government when they saw that enrollment did not drop and there was no danger of firing employees because of COVID.
Other private schools say they have followed the program’s guidelines and plan to ask for forgiveness for the loans – meaning they won’t have to pay back the money.
The private schools applied for the PPP loans last spring when Congress passed the CARES law and disbursed billions of dollars in emergency pandemic funding.
Traditional public schools are not eligible for the PPP loans.
Franklin Road Academy received $ 2,063,100 from the Paycheck Protection Program according to data from the Small Business Administration.
The data also shows that Harding Academy, a private school from preschool through 8th grade in Belle Meade, received $ 1,204,500, while Nashville Christian Schools Inc. in Bellevue, for preschoolers through 12th grade, received $ 1,043,300.
The PPP loans are easy to forgive, which means it’s essentially free money if schools use most of the money to make sure workers aren’t laid off during the pandemic.
“It’s really shocking to see the amounts there,” said city councilor Dave Rosenberg when we showed him what several private schools were receiving.
Rosenberg has doubts whether private schools saw a drop in enrollment due to COVID, especially as parents began pulling their children out of public schools so they could attend class in person.
“PPP should have been targeted at small businesses that would otherwise have to lay off workers,” said Rosenberg.
“Private schools have many sources of income, be it from endowments or tuition,” said Rosenberg.
Christ Presbyterian Academy on Old Hickory Boulevard received $ 3,189,529, but decided to return all the money to the federal government when the school realized enrollment had not dropped.
“We decided to give it back because if we didn’t need it, we honestly shouldn’t be using it,” said Nate Morrow, principal of the CPA school.
“As we went through May and June, it quickly became clear that our families would be back at CPA,” said Morrow.
He said the school applied for the money last spring when no one was sure what consequences the pandemic would have.
Montgomery Bell Academy has also returned the PPP money received.
The school received more than $ 3 million, but decided it wanted to be a “good citizen” and give the money back to others “with less resources,” said Rector Brad Gioia.
Father Ryan High School, a private Catholic school, received $ 1,948,600 in PPP loans.
Director of Communications for the Nashville Diocese, Rick Musacchio, said the school plans to keep the money and forgive the loans.
“We were fully compliant with the PPP program. It had requirements to keep everyone working, and we certainly did,” said Musacchio.
Another Catholic school, Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, received $ 1,139,100 from the PPP program.
Musacchio told us they also plan to keep the money, even though the total enrollment with Pope John Paul remained unchanged throughout the pandemic. He added that Father Ryan lost only three students.
NewsChannel 5 investigates asked, “If parents kept paying school fees and enrollment didn’t drop, were you ever in danger of firing people?”
Musacchio replied, “Yes. The PPP loans became very important because we could focus on keeping people working even with the many challenges we posed by COVID.”
Musacchio said more families needed financial assistance due to the economic downturn, and that the schools critically lost money when summer camps closed.
He said the loans helped pay bus drivers and cafeteria workers who had no work to do during the shutdown.
Musacchio also said that the Catholic schools have lower tuition fees than some other schools that have repaid loans, and he doesn’t think taking the money stopped small businesses from getting it.
“There are still funds available, in the PPP loans, that the government has not yet released,” said Musacchio.
Currey Ingram Academy, a daytime and boarding school for preschool through 12th graders, received $ 1,566,000.
The school’s website states that it helps students with learning differences reach their full potential.
It sent a statement saying that the school was using federal money to pay workers at the “Child Development Center and Diagnostic Center, who are open to the public and could not work during the extended quarantine.”
Councilor Dave Rosenberg said it is frustrating that public schools couldn’t even apply for the PPP loans.
“In a public school, you see PTOs struggling to raise $ 5,000 to $ 10,000,” Rosenberg said.
“If you widen the gap between public and private schools, it’s not good for us as a society. It’s not good for us as a city,” Rosenberg said.
We have contacted all the schools in this story and some of them have sent us the following statements.
Currey Ingram Academy Statement
Amid uncertainty about what the next academic year would look like, Currey Ingram Academy signed up for the Paycheck Protection Program in early 2020. The money received went to maintain the faculty and staff of Currey Ingram Academy, as well as our staff from the Child Development Center and Diagnostic Center – both of which are open to the public and were unable to operate during the extended quarantine – worked during the crisis . It was also about implementing health and safety measures to help our students safely return to personal learning in the fall. We recognize that companies in almost every industry have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and we are grateful that we were able to receive a small portion to help keep our employed staff and the community on campus safe.
Statement of CPA
The Church (Christ Presbyterian Church) and the Academy applied for the full amount offered with the uncertainty that our families would be able to afford the tuition fees or that Church members would be able to contribute to annual donations during the pandemic. We are an organization of over 250 employees whose compensation is dependent on tuition fees, and obtaining the loan was a step forward in the uncertainty of the fiscal year. However, as the fall of 2020 progressed, our tuition income remained stable, allowing us to repay the full amount of the loan to other nonprofits who needed it more.
We are grateful that so many of our Nashville neighbors and nonprofits have had access to financial support and stability in the uncertainty of this pandemic.
Additional information from the Catholic Diocese of Nashville
The loans helped all of our entities avoid reducing payroll to make up for the loss of income during the pandemic. The loans not only kept people in work, as was the aim of the program, but, perhaps more importantly, saved many jobs providing support services to meet a wide variety of needs. For our out-of-school entities, the loans have enabled us to retain indispensable staff and expertise, ensuring continuity of our services to the entire Nashville community. These include providing affordable childcare to low-income families, being a distribution arm chosen by the State of Tennessee to assist with tornado rescue services, and being chosen by the City of Nashville to assist with counseling and emergency relief to families affected by the Christmas Day bombing.
For example, the loans related to our schools allowed schools to pay bus drivers and cafeteria staff even though they were unemployed, as students were subject to stay-home assignments. The funds also helped to provide personal protective equipment and to support the implementation of protocols and adaptations necessary for the safe reopening of personal learning at the beginning of the academic year in August 2020. All 16 of our parochial and diocesan schools have reopened for personal learning. learning according to plan and the protocols introduced and security adjustments have allowed them to remain open all year round. Personal learning not only ensures the safety and education of both Catholic and non-Catholic students, it also relieves their families from the burden of providing supervision and support to students participating in distance learning programs.
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