The Paycheck Protection Program is meant to support employees of small businesses during the Covid-19 shutdown, and national chains like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack have returned funds after public pushback. Recently, expensive private schools have also been the subject of scrutiny, including DC’s Sidwell Friends and Potomac’s St. Andrew’s, where Donald Trump’s son goes to school.
Is it appropriate for Washington’s elite private schools to accept the money? Sidwell—which has unveiled plans for a major expansion of its lavish Wisconsin Ave. campus—says it needs the $5.2 million to pay teachers and staff. In a letter to alums, the school said it accepted the money to avoid having to lay people off (which is, after all, one of the stated goals of the program).
Critics think the money should go to small local businesses that are in far graver danger. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently tweeted that private schools with significant endowments (Sidwell’s is more than $50 million) should give the money back. Sidwell seems disinclined to oblige. “The Board determined that accepting the loan was appropriate and fully consistent with its fiduciary responsibilities, as well as our Quaker values,” members of the board of trustees wrote to the Sidwell community. Judging by the heated debate on its private alumni Facebook group, a large number of graduates are furious about the decision (although many others are supportive).
So how are other area private schools handling this decision? A quick look at what we’ve been able to find out.
St. Andrew’s: Barron Trump’s school has accepted an undisclosed amount of PPP money, according to a statement from a spokesperson: “Like so many of its peer schools, St. Andrew’s applied for PPP funds through our longstanding bank to ensure retention of our full faculty and staff, including hourly employees and coaches, during this very challenging and uncertain time. We feel fortunate to have received funds that will allow us to maintain our promise to increase financial aid to help families facing hardship so they can remain at St. Andrew’s next year. We hope every deserving nonprofit and small business is able to access similar support. If the terms of the program change, we will review to make sure we are in compliance and adjust accordingly.
Does the president support his son’s school’s decision? Apparently not: A Trump spokesperson told Politico that “the president has made it clear that he does not believe private schools with significant endowments should be receiving PPP money and those that have should consider returning it.”
Georgetown Day School: In a recent email to the school’s community, the head of school and chair of the board of trustees shared that they won’t take any PPP money. “Of note, our Board and school leadership made the decision to decline funds from the federal government’s [Paycheck Protection Program]. While we have real financial needs that led us to apply for the funding, as we learned more about the program, we ultimately decided not to accept the loan.”
Maret: A spokesperson tells Washingtonian that “Maret decided that it was not appropriate to apply for PPP funds.”
St. Albans and National Cathedral School: Neither of these institutions, located on the grounds of the National Cathedral, decided to apply for PPP money, according to spokespeople for each school.
Landon: In a recent email to the Landon community, the headmaster wrote that the school has accepted federal money. “We were both relieved and extremely grateful to learn recently that we are one of many educational institutions that had received funds through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as it meant we are able to avoid for now furloughing employees, reducing hours, and reducing compensation and benefits for our faculty and staff.”
The Field School: According to the Washington Post, it has accepted PPP money.
Holton-Arms: It has been approved for PPP funds but has not yet decided whether to accept them, according to the Post.
Georgetown Prep: A spokesperson told Washingtonian he would get back to us after discussing with the CFO.
We will update this story as more information becomes available.