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St. Sebastian School in Dearborn Heights, Mich., is shutting down at the end of the school year.

Many private schools in Michigan struggle to survive

Rising costs, fewer students, and fewer resources have forced 200 campuses to shut their doors in the last decade.

Private schools in Michigan having been closing their doors at a rate of about two per month over the last decade. 

The Detroit Free Press reports that more than 200 private schools have closed since 2009, according to data from the Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information.

"The school-age population has shrunk, and the economics of it have been really difficult," says Brian Broderick, executive director of the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools, which represents almost 400 Catholic, Lutheran and Christian schools in the state.

Last year, about 112,000 Michigan students attended private schools, a 14% decrease from the 130,000 students in private schools a decade earlier.

Among the private school closures of the past decade are 60 unaffiliated religious schools, 46 Catholic schools, 19 Baptist schools, 16 Missouri Synod Lutheran Schools, 16 Christian schools and 11 Seventh-day Adventist schools. Another 37 nonreligious private schools also have closed.

Operators of schools forced to close tell stories of rising costs, fewer resources and fewer students.

"It took an emotional toll on the congregation," says Pastor Mark Hetzner of St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Eastpointe, which closed its school in 2015. "That was the end of 130 years of Christian education on the east side of Detroit. You're going though a whole grieving process as a congregation."

Ultimately, the school couldn't sustain itself and was shut down. Hetzner sayds the school is now rented by Great Start Readiness Program, a state-sponsored program that prepares 4-year-olds for kindergarten. 

In January, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron announced a plan to strengthen Catholic schools in the Detroit area. It includes a partnership with the University of Notre Dame to create STEM programs and other measures to beef up academic offerings.

The plan didn't come soon enough to save St. Sebastian School in Dearborn Heights, which announced earlier this year that it is closing, a victim of changing demographics and challenging finances. 

“Closing a parish school is never easy, but after reviewing enrollment and demographic trends, parishes and schools that are nearby, our parish and school finances and other data to assess the viability of the school, I fully believe that this is the best decision for the continuing health of our parish community," the Rev. Walter Ptak wrote in a letter to church members in March.

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