JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New data from 33 states shows public school enrollment has dropped by half a million students in 2020. It’s a 2% difference compared to 2019.
The decline could eventually have dire consequences for already stressed school budgets that are based on headcounts.
If enrollment doesn’t return to projected levels, the resulting loss of funding would be “crippling” to public education, leading to layoffs and program cuts, and also harmful to the states’ economies as school districts are among the largest employers in thousands of counties across the country.
Even more alarming, educators say, is that some of the students who left may not be in school at all.
Right now, updated enrollment numbers are not available in Florida. The state’s public education enrollment numbers were collected in October and are expected to be released in early January.
Regardless, an updated emergency order from the Florida Department of Education makes it so Florida schools will not suffer a decrease in funding due to enrollment. Florida schools will get funding based on a projected number of students made in July, rather than the actual.
The same is not so for Georgia’s public education funding and data shows enrollment in the peach state is down roughly 2 percent (1.93%)
One major example of what this will cost education: The Atlanta Public School District already estimated it could receive roughly $4 million dollars less next year in state funding, based on lower enrollment counts.
The states with the biggest declines are Alabama and New Hampshire. This is a significant shift considering that enrollment overall in those states has typically gone up by about half a percent in recent years.
A 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. There are several other factors making it hard to calculate the actual enrollment number.
The Associated Press found states haven’t been able to track down students who left or didn’t return from summer break. Some students may be getting home-schooled, but their state doesn’t require families to register them as such. 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 were dropped from their district’s rolls.
State superintendents and education advocates are now saying there needs to be more done by school districts, state officials, and social service agencies to find the missing students.