District Fears of Permanent Loss of Students Grounded in Reality

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Public school districts that lost student enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic are facing the prospect those students will stay with their new education choices.

Since funding cuts will come with drops in enrollment, school districts may now have to compete for those students, whose families chose private, religious, and homeschooling options during the school shutdowns and subsequent blocking of reopening by teachers’ unions.

These families may decide to remain in alternative settings, according to education outlet Chalkbeat and the Associated Press (AP).

In San Francisco, for example, public school enrollment has plunged as mostly white families are fleeing the district.

More than 1,700 public school students have left the city’s district over the past year, with possibly a continued exodus into the start of the next academic year in the fall. The drop in enrollment could amount to a loss of about $20 million in state funding.

Drops in enrollment are varying by student race and ethnicity, an analysis by Chalkbeat and AP also found.

“Enrollment in preschool to 12th grade dropped by 2.6% across 41 states last fall, and the decline was steepest among white students, whose enrollment fell more than 4%,” the report noted.

The largest shift since the school shutdowns is apparent in the national Hispanic population, with enrollment having dropped 1.5 percent in fall of 2020, a significant decline since the Hispanic student population showed the most rapid growth prior to the pandemic.

School districts are now hoping to attract students with “new efforts to connect with families with young children, including blanketing communities with yard signs and enlisting bus drivers to call parents,” the report noted.

It remains to be seen how far public school districts will go to compete with alternative education choices, now that funding cuts due to drops in enrollment could be obscured due to the “historic” spending on public education provided in the Democrats’ coronavirus relief bill.

The good news of the pandemic is it led to “many positive educational changes that will be transformative and long-lasting,” education researcher Kerry McDonald wrote at Foundation for Economic Education on Monday.

“Most notably, parents have been re-empowered to take back the reins of their children’s education from government bureaucrats and teachers unions,” she observed.

McDonald noted four signs the declines in public school enrollment will be permanent: significant drops in fall kindergarten enrollment, especially; the rise in homeschooling, particularly among black families; the advancement of new education options, made possible by greater school choice policies in the states; and the unpopularity of divisive practices, such as those aligned with “equity” policies and Critical Race Theory.

“With virus-related back-to-school policies still murky, and districts continuing to alienate families with racially divisive practices, it’s no surprise that many parents won’t be sending their kids to public schools this fall,” McDonald asserted.

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