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Public school enrollment down by two million students even after pandemic

Around two million students have left public schools since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Education Next, a nonpartisan research group.

Researchers found that from 2020 to 2022, enrollment in public schools declined from 81 percent to 76.5 percent; charter school enrollment increased from 5 percent to 7.2 percent; private school enrollment increased from 8 percent to 9.7 percent; and homeschooling rose from 6 percent to 6.6 percent.

“Our polling data indicate that district-operated schools lost 4 percent of student enrollments to other types of schooling between 2020 and 2022,” researchers said. “If that percentage is accurate, it means that nearly two million students have shifted from traditional public schools to alternative school arrangements.”

Although appearing to be a significant drop in enrollment, the report did not consider the decline to be as severe as in the first 6 months of the pandemic. Researchers found that in November 2020, public school enrollment had dropped down to 72 percent, or 4.5 percentage points lower than it is at present.

“A wholesale mass exodus from traditional public schools has not occurred,” the report claims. “And despite partisan differences in responses to COVID-19, the parents of children in states both blue and red report less anxiety about their children’s academic and social progress than was the case two years earlier.”

Recently, debates surrounding lockdown measures and controversial curriculum content have led many parents to take their children out of public schools and choose alternatives such as homeschooling or private education. Last September, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report showing that around 1.4 million children had been taken out of public schools, based on an analysis of the school districts of 41 states and the District of Columbia.

“It is premature to draw any conclusions about why charter school enrollment grew while enrollment in district public schools declined,” the alliance report aid. “And yet the pattern among states in this report is undeniable. There is much to learn from families who made the switch, and perhaps the biggest lesson for everyone is how critically important charter schools are to public education.”

Earlier this year, the National Catholic Educational Association reported a slight increase in Catholic school enrollment for the 2021-22 academic year compared to the 2020-21 academic year. “Enrollment at all types of schools — public, charter and private — was impacted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the association said. “Catholic schools had a decline in enrollment of 6.4 percent from 2019- 20 to 2020-21.”

Polling in 2021 also found that 15 percent, or 1 in 6 students are now homeschooled. That number is up from 4 percent pre-pandemic. Polling has also found that the exodus is not just pandemic releated. Polls have found parents pulling students out of public education over such issues as CRT, gender ideology curriculum, and safety concerns.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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