While enrollment at D.C. public schools have dropped by about 15,000 over the last three years, enrollments at 250 private and parochial schools in the Washington area have grown.

Last year, one out of every seven District children attended private school. According to a spokesman for the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, the number of area private schools has increased.

Applications to these schools are up.

Philippa Jackson, director of the Black Student Fund, which steers black students toward private schools, reports that her office received a record 1,200 calls in the last year from parents seeking to place their children in nonpublic institutions.

"This year before we had less then 1,000, but the year before that," she said, "we had about 350 calls."

Private school administrators are not immune from the budget headaches plaguing their public school colleagues. Parochial schools, which are supported by parishioners and which are reluctant to increase their comparatively low fees, have been squeezed by mounting utility costs.

Schools catering to special interests, such as the school of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saints Constantine and Helen which conducts half of its classes in Modern Greek, have had problems attracting suburban students.

Labor costs have risen for schools that employ a high proportion of lay teachers. And financial aid coffers have been depleted in recent years as more and more middle-class parents request help in meeting tuition costs.

For the most part, however, the private school picture is one of surplus on a wall of scarcity, at least as far as the supply of students is concerned.

"We have a lengthy waiting list from grade four on up. The lists are longer than they've ever been before and there are more waiting at the end of the summer," Said Glady M. Stern, director of the prestigious Georgetown Day School.

"People seem to be desperate about getting their children in (to the school) in a way I don't completely understand."

Administrators like Stern say they hope that parents choose their schools for the institution's individual qualities rather than out of fear of the public schools.

Still, the irony is inescapable: though tuition costs rise every year, parents are knocking louder and longer on the private school doors.

Mused a perplexed Stern, "Maybe there's more money in the economy than we realize."