empty classroom

Covid-19 has caused significant drop in the nation's public school enrollment

Dec. 22, 2020
An analysis by Chalkbeat and the Associated Press of data in 33 states shows student numbers have dropped by 500,000 students.

An analysis of data from 33 states obtained by Chalkbeat and The Associated Press shows that public K-12 enrollment this fall has dropped across those states by more than 500,000 students, or 2%, since the same time last year.

The Associated Press reports that the drop is significant because enrollment in those states has typically gone up by around half a percent in recent years. And the decline is only likely to become more pronounced, as several large states have yet to release information

The numbers offer a clear picture of the pandemic’s devastating toll on public school enrollment — a decline that could eventually have dire consequences for school budgets that are based on student headcounts. But even more alarming, educators say, is that some of the students who left may not be in school at all.

The declines are driven by a combination of factors brought on by the pandemic. Fewer parents enrolled their children in kindergarten, and some students left public schools for other learning environments.

At the same time, students who are struggling to attend classes, as many are right now, may have been purged from public school rolls for missing many days in a row. That is a typical practice, though there is some more flexibility now.

The Chalkbeat/AP analysis shows that a drop in kindergarten enrollment accounts for 30% of the total reduction across the 33 states — making it one of the biggest drivers of the nationwide decline. Kindergarten is not required in over half of states, and many parents have chosen to skip it.

Some aren’t sure it would be worth it for their children to learn virtually, while others don’t want their kids’ first experience with school to include wearing a mask.

Many states haven’t been able to track down all the students who left. Some students may be getting home-schooled, but their state doesn’t require families to register them. Some may have moved across state lines and haven’t transferred their records.

Others may have stopped attending school because they are experiencing homelessness, lack a stable internet connection, are working to support their families or are caring for siblings — and then were dropped from their district’s rolls.

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