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Local public schools have been struggling with absenteeism and lower enrollment since the pandemic. As things start to look a bit more normal, many are concerned about students not returning and the potential impact. Some superintedents fear the fallout from lost students is likely to lead to major layoffs and closures if districts don’t recover by 2024, when federal relief funds dry up. Testing coordinators are monitoring enrollment numbers as they prepare for testing this Spring, as their schedules will likley be impacted by significant declines, is applicable:

Summary

  • The nation’s schools experienced a historic decline in enrollment during the pandemic.
  • New data shows that many urban districts are still losing students, and those that rebounded this year typically haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Possible reasons
    • online charters
    • homeschool
    • virtual programs
    • moved to suburbs with more affordable housing
    • parents seeking stability for their kids.
  • Federal data shows that last year’s losses were concentrated in the early grades and may never return.

Notable impact

  • New York experienced the sharpest decline, a 2% drop — more than 48,000 students — since last year. That’s on top of the previous year’s 3% decline.
  • Los Angeles Unified, for example, saw a 5.9% decline this year and is expected to fall below 400,000 students by fall of 2023.
  • The student population in the Clark County School District, which includes Las Vegas, began dropping about five years ago. Much of the decline is attributed to the growth of charter schools. 
  • Enrollment in Florida saw the biggest bounce at 4%, or more than 111,000 additional students — a reflection of higher birth rates, job growth and fewer COVID restrictions.
  • State data offers a glimpse of what will likely be further enrollment growth in Arizona, Florida and Utah — states with more affordable housing, growing tech sectors and outdoor living that became an important draw during COVID.
  • At the same time, fewer people are moving to the Northeast from other states and countries, citing ballooning housing costs and higher taxes

The implications

  • Federal money will run out, and enrollment for some of them isn’t going to come back.
  • Districts with enrollment loss could face tough decisions about layoffs and school closures in the near future.
  • Smaller districts that are rapidly gaining students are struggling to hire staff and preserve the kind of close-knit environment that drew many parents in the first place.
  • The anti-charter discussion is in the past.
  • The discussion today is how are we more flexible and how we are more agile for our communities. 

Conclusions

  • Homeschooling jumped from about 5% of households to over 11% the fall after the pandemic began. By the start of this school year, it had settled back down to about 7%.
  • Others have left for more established private schools.
  • Many of the enrollment swings this year reflect the success of online programs in meeting the needs of families for consistency amid the pandemic’s many disruptions.
  • For some virtual charters, the enrollment spike was temporary.
  • Virtual programs remain in high demand nationwide. 
  • Districts with falling enrollment are strategizing how to keep the students they have.
    • providing small-town atmosphere
    • raising substitute salaries
    • accomplished pre-k programs
    • slow lift in mask mandates
  • Many might see it as a public school district versus charter battle, instead this makes us stronger and responds to the needs of the community.

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