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Calvary Baptist Academy educated generations of youth from its namesake church in Montgomery, Alabama. But in spring 2009, after 30 years, it graduated its last class.

In June, school officials announced that the academy would be closing its doors, making it one of hundreds of private Christian schools nationwide that fell casualty this summer to a struggling economy and dwindling enrollment.

The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), which has more than 5,500 member schools worldwide, normally averages 150 school closures each year. It has already had more than 200 schools close in 2009, according to spokesperson Janet Stump.

The recession has hit struggling schools hard, and widespread unemployment has made it difficult for many families to keep paying private tuition rates.

"We believe that many families will not return," Stump said. "For many, it will take years to recover from the financial stress."

Schools in California, Florida, New England, and the upper Midwest have been hit the hardest, she said.

Enrollment in Southern California's ACSI schools dropped more than 9 percent in 2009 to the lowest that regional director Jerry Haddock has seen in his 22 years with the accrediting body.

"School closures happen every year, but declining enrollment doesn't," Haddock said. Enrollment in ACSI schools is down 5 percent nationwide, he said.

A smaller population of elementary-age children and the increasing popularity of charter schools—public-school alternatives that don't charge tuition—also have lowered enrollment in private Christian schools, he said.

The doors to many of the region's ACSI schools remain open for now, but school officials are waiting to see their final enrollment numbers for the 2009-10 ...

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August 2009

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