Statewide census of private education in Minnesota released

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St. Paul, MN – The Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF) and Wilder Research released today the findings of the Statewide Census of Private Education (SCOPE) in Minnesota, which provides a comprehensive look at the characteristics and effectiveness of the state’s private schools and their students.

Dan Mueller, associate director of Wilder Research, shared the SCOPE results today as part of Non-Public Schools Day at the Capitol.

“The Statewide Census of Private Education indicates that the impact of private schools is important to consider in terms of the overall academic outcomes, both because of the number students being served by private education and because of the academic success experienced by these students,” according to the SCOPE final report.

The research findings revealed that 97 percent of students attending private schools graduate on time – with 92 percent and 90 percent of African-American and Hispanic students, respectively, graduating on time.

“Reducing the racial disparity in educational outcomes is a high priority for educators, legislators and smart businesses,” said Jim Field, president of MISF. “These excellent outcomes stem from private schools’ smaller class sizes and teachers’ ability to identify and work with students who need extra attention. Through financial aid and other means, more at-risk students are now able to attend private schools and receive specialized attention to help them succeed.”

Of the state’s 443 private schools, 43 percent serve grades K-8, 24 percent offer grades K-5 or 6 and only 5 percent serve high school only, according to the SCOPE report. Those schools served over 75,000 K-12 students in 2010-2011 – 14 percent of which were students of color; 11 percent qualified for reduced-price or free meals, an indicator of families’ economic means. Kindergarteners, the largest grade population represented in private schools, totaled about 7,000. Between 20-24 percent of all students received financial aid for the year surveyed.

While many people likely think of private schools as being larger institutions, the reality is that almost half of Minnesota’s private schools have enrollments less than 100 students; nearly a quarter (24 percent) have less than 50 students.

Operating efficiency
Private schools’ ability to keep operating costs and tuition down has a direct correlation on their enrollments and financial viability. Just over 60% of private schools reported annual income and expenses of less than $1 million. According to the SCOPE survey, private schools’ estimated average per student costs was $8,688, including consideration for operational expenses covered by host organizations (churches or denominations, primarily), compared with an estimated $10,251 for public schools in fiscal 2010 (one year earlier than private  school data but most recent data available).

“Differences in per-student costs may be attributable to lower personnel costs in private schools, reduced regulatory compliance procedures and general cost-saving measures,” Field said. “While every educational institution is forced to do more with less these days, private schools consistently demonstrate an ability to maintain high academic outcomes in spite of tight budgets.”

Minnesota’s private education system is a $500 million industry that contributes to the state’s economy through privately financed school buildings and infrastructure, and employing about 3,800 FTE teachers, managers and administrators. From 2008 to 2011, the economic recession has led to a 11.2 percent decline in enrollment in private schools and the closure of 48 private schools in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

About the SCOPE study
Wilder Research conducted the statewide survey of private schools – religiously affiliated and/or independent schools that serve one or more grades from kindergarten through 12 – and primarily gathered data on the 2010-11 school year. Of an eligible 443 schools, 226 participated in the study (a 51 percent response rate). An executive summary of the SCOPE report is available at

About MISF
The Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF) strengthens Minnesota’s K-12 independent schools by advancing positions of common interest with lawmakers, policy makers, and the general public; and providing member schools with resources, connections, education and expertise in critical disciplines. For more information, visit


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