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 of the schools decided to return the money to the federal government when they saw enrollment did not go down and there was no danger of laying off employees because of COVID.
Other private schools say they followed the guidelines of the program and plan to ask forgiveness for the loans - meaning they will not have to repay the money.
The private schools applied for the PPP loans last spring when Congress passed the CARES Act and disbursed billions of dollars in emergency pandemic funding.
Traditional public schools do not qualify 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 Harding Academy, a pre-k through 8th-grade private school 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 easily forgiven, which means they are essentially free money if schools use most of the funds to make sure employees were not laid off during the pandemic.
"It's really jarring to see the amounts there," said Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg when we showed him what several private schools received.
Rosenberg doubts private schools saw a drop in enrollment because of COVID, especially as parents began pulling their kids out of public schools so they could attend class in-person.
"PPP was supposed to be directed to small businesses who would otherwise have to lay off employees," Rosenberg said.
"Private schools have a lot of income sources whether it's endowments or tuition," Rosenberg said.
Christ Presbyterian Academy on Old Hickory Boulevard received $3,189,529, but decided to return all of the money to the federal government when the school realized enrollment had not dropped.
"We decided to return it because candidly if we didn't need it, we shouldn't use it," said Nate Morrow who is CPA's Head of School.
"As we went through May and June it became very clear, very quickly, that our families were going to be back at CPA," Morrow said.
He said the school applied for the money last spring when no one was sure what impact the pandemic would have.
Montgomery Bell Academy also returned the PPP money it received.
The school received more than $3 million dollars but decided it wanted to be a "good citizen" and return the money for others "not as well resourced," according to Headmaster Brad Gioia.
Father Ryan High School, a private Catholic school received $1,948,600 in PPP loans.
Director of Communications for the Diocese of Nashville, Rick Musacchio, said the school plans to keep the money and have the loans forgiven.
"We complied completely with the PPP program. It had requirements of keeping everyone employed, which we certainly did," Musacchio said.
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 total enrollment at Pope John Paul remained unchanged throughout the pandemic. He added that Father Ryan only lost three students.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "If parents kept paying tuition and enrollment didn't go down, were you ever in danger of laying people off?"
Musacchio responded, "Yes. The PPP loans became very important because we were able to focus on keeping people employed even facing the many challenges we did caused by COVID."
Musacchio said more families needed financial aid because of the economic downturn, and the schools lost critical money when summer camps closed.
He said the loans helped pay bus drivers and cafeteria workers who did not have jobs to do during the shutdown.
Musacchio also said the Catholic schools have lower tuition than some of the other schools that gave loans back, and he doesn't think taking the money kept small businesses from getting it.
"There are still funds available, in the PPP loans, that the government has not yet released," Musacchio said.
Currey Ingram Academy, a day and boarding school for Kindergarten through 12th graders, received $1,566,000.
The school's website states it helps students with learning differences achieve their full potential.
It sent a statement saying the school used the federal money to pay employees at its "Child Development Center and Diagnostic Center, which are open to the public and were unable to operate during the extended quarantine."
Councilman Dave Rosenberg said the frustrating thing is public schools could not even apply for the PPP loans.
"In a public school you can see PTOs struggling to raise $5,000 to $10,000," Rosenberg said.
"When you further 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 reached out to all the schools in this story and some of them sent us the following statements.
Statement from Currey Ingram Academy
Amid the uncertainty of what the next academic year would look like, Currey Ingram Academy applied for the Paycheck Protection Program in early 2020. The money received went toward keeping the faculty and staff of Currey Ingram Academy, as well as our staff at the Child Development Center and Diagnostic Center -- which are both open to the public and were unable to operate during the extended quarantine -- employed during the crisis. It also went toward implementing health and safety measures to allow our students to return safely to in-person learning in the fall. We recognize that businesses across nearly every industry have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and we are grateful that we were able to receive a small portion to keep our staff employed and community safe on campus.
Statement from CPA
The Church (Christ Presbyterian Church) and Academy submitted an application for the full amount offered with the uncertainty of our families ability to pay tuition or church members ability to contribute in annual giving during the pandemic. We are an organization employing 250+ employees whose compensation depends on tuition, and our securing of the loan was a step forward in the uncertainty of the fiscal year. However, as fall of 2020 unfolded, our tuition income remained stable, allowing us to return the full amount of the loan for other nonprofits that needed it more.
We are thankful that so many of our Nashville-area neighbors and nonprofits have had access to financial relief and stability in the uncertainty of this pandemic.
Additional Information from the Nashville Catholic Diocese
The loans helped all of our entities to avoid cutting payroll to make up for the loss of revenue during the pandemic. The loans not only kept people employed, as was the goal of the program, but perhaps more importantly, saved many jobs that provide support services to address a wide range of needs. For our non-school entities the loans enabled us to retain vital staffing and expertise, allowing us to provide for the continuity of our services to the entire Nashville community. These would include providing affordable daycare to low-income families, being a distribution arm chosen by the State of Tennessee to assist with tornado relief services, and being chosen by the City of Nashville to assist with counseling and emergency relief services to families impacted by the Christmas Day bombing.
The loans related to our schools, for example, enabled schools to pay bus drivers and cafeteria workers even though they had no work since students were subject to “stay-at-home” orders. The funds also helped to provide for PPEs and support the implementation of protocols and modifications necessary for the safe reopening for in-person learning at the beginning of the academic year in August 2020. All 16 of our parochial and diocesan schools reopened for in-person learning as scheduled and the protocols and safety modifications put in place have allowed them to remain open throughout the year. The in-person learning not only provides for the safety and education of both Catholic and non-Catholic students, it also relieves their families of the burden of providing supervision and support for students engaged in distance learning programs.