Sidwell Friends, the tony prep school that educates the children of D.C. elites, has a $50 million endowment. Its revenue from tuition is reportedly $40 million a year.
And yet the Washingtonian magazine reports that Sidwell Friends has received a $5.2 million loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to save jobs and provide support for workers by preventing small businesses from going under because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Washingtonian gave a rundown on other Washington area private schools: St. Andrew’s, where Baron Trump is a student and which has a reported $9 million endowment, has received a PPP loan for an undisclosed amount. The Field School and Holton-Arms have not yet decided whether to take a PPP loan. Landon has applied for a PPP loan. Georgetown Prep told the magazine it would get back to it.
According to the magazine, other private schools have said they would not take a PPP loan. These include Georgetown Day, Maret, and St. Albans and National Cathedral, which did not apply for a PPP loan. Famous Episcopal High School in Alexandria, according to the New York Times, decided that it “should not seek this kind of support when others need it more,”
Even if (like me) you strongly believe that private education is a great thing, learning that an institution with a $50 million endowment has taken one of these loans has to shake you up a bit. The loans were meant to help our economy by preventing small businesses from going under.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked private schools with big endowments to return the money. No dice from Sidwell Friends. The Washington Free Beacon reports:
In a letter to the community, the [Sidwell Friends] board of trustees cited its “fiduciary responsibilities” as well as “our Quaker values” in its decision to keep the money—with the latter claim particularly raising eyebrows among critics.
. . .
The school likely has substantial benefactors, as indicated by the wealth of its board. Members include Marla Beck, who sold cosmetics chain Bluemercury to Macy’s for $210 million; Patrick Gross, cofounder of American Management Systems Inc., which was valued at $1 billion; and Mark Jacobsen, CEO of Promontory Interfinancial Network, which provides financial services for half of all banks nationwide and previously sold for $2.5 billion.
Requests for comments directed to Beck’s, Gross’s, and Jacobsen’s firms as to whether or not the board members were approached for assistance by the school went unanswered.
No one is alleging that the loans were acquired dishonestly. On the other hand, as the New York Times points out, it probably did help Sidwell to have friends in high places:
That tension is playing out in miniature in the private school world. While there is no suggestion that any school used political ties to bolster its application, some bigger institutions are able to tap board members and donors with connections to banks.“It’s kind of a wild thing that’s happening — you can see the pitfalls with the program,” said Jennifer S. Danish, head of school at Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, Md., which she said served mostly middle-class students. “If you have a board member or a connection with a big bank, you’re more likely going to get it.”
Let’s go back to the values thing cited in the letter to the community from the board of Sidwell Friends. What kind of values does it teach students for Sidwell Friends to accept this kind of money from a program that was designed to bail out struggling businesses at a time of epic hardship?
What ever happened to doing your bit, pitching in, tightening your belt and other formerly preppie values?
Consider this an essay question—and you don’t have to be Advanced Placement to ace it when the answer is this obvious.
By the way, Shake Shack, which was given a loan and then returned it, set a better example than the fancy prep school by returning its PPP loan.