School & District Management What the Research Says

Public School Enrollment Continues to Stagnate

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 16, 2022 3 min read
Scarce classroom of students taking exams at their desks with empty desks in the foreground.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

More than two years into the pandemic, 1.3 million students are still missing from public school rolls, with financial implications looming for districts eyeing the end of extra federal and state pandemic aid.

The federal Education Department’s preliminary count finds 49.5 million students were enrolled in public schools last fall. That’s ticked up slightly from 49.4 million in 2020, when many schools were still closed to in-person instruction. But it’s still well below the 50.8 million students who were in public pre-K-12 before the pandemic began.

Earlier in the pandemic, schools saw the largest declines in the earliest grades, particularly for low-income and Black students. Incoming preschool and kindergarten classes did rebound, with 15 percent more pre-kindergartners and 5 percent more kindergartners enrolled last fall than in 2020. But in many states that boost was not enough to make up for the massive decline the prior year, when 20 states lost 10 percent or more of their kindergartners and at least four states lost more than 1 in 3 pre-K students, compared to fall 2019.

Two of the most populous states in the country had the largest ongoing enrollment declines: California, down 1.7 percent, and New York, down more than 2.2 percent since 2020. The declines have spurred a flurry of outreach efforts in both states, such as a 600-person door-to-door campaign in the Los Angeles Unified school district.

Boston University and University of Michigan researchers have found that the ongoing disruptions and changing restrictions “may have substantially altered parents’ perceptions of the quality of schooling their children might experience, as well as their perceptions of the physical risk of in-person schooling.”

But families have not responded equally. The researchers, led by Tareena Musaddiq, a public policy researcher at the University of Michigan, found low-income and Black families became less likely to have their young children start school during 2020’s remote learning, but white and wealthier families were more likely to pull even their older children from public school systems in favor of home-schooling, private schools, or other options. As of last year, white students’ enrollment continued to decline across grades.

Sandra Kim, spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said about 9 million families home-school today, accounting for 11 percent of all families with school-age children. That’s up from only 3 percent in 2019.

“I think one of the questions that we are all still coming to is, what does this new normal of mid- to post-pandemic look like?” said Ross Santy, the associate commissioner for administrative data for the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the new enrollment data. “Obviously fall of 2020 was a unique time when vaccines were not out yet, the pandemic was at its most impactful, and we saw a large, significant decline that we hadn’t seen in recent years in public school enrollment.”

While virtually all schools are back to full in-person instruction, Santy said, it could be another few years before education leaders will be able to confirm a new enrollment baseline.

“There are still disruptions; there are still things that are affecting the delivery of education and therefore people’s comfort level with public education,” Santy said.

The Common Core of Data includes a snapshot of reported enrollment for all district and charter public schools that is taken each October. The current data include 49 states, the District of Columbia, Bureau of Indian Education schools, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Washington state did not provide data by the submission deadline. Enrollment data are expected to be finalized by the end of 2022.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How District Leaders Can Make Sure Teachers Don't Miss the Loan-Forgiveness Deadline
Many teachers and other public employees may not know they qualify for a student loan-forgiveness waiver that has an Oct. 31 deadline.
4 min read
Young adult woman cutting the ball and chain labeled "Debt" which is attached as the tassel hanging from a graduate's mortarboard
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Download A Visual Guide to Nonverbal Communication (Download)
Understanding nonverbal communication can help you improve interactions and get your message across.
1 min read
v42 8SR Nonverbal Communication Share Image
Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty
School & District Management Ensure Your Staff Gets the Message: 3 Tips for School Leaders
School staff are inundated with information. Here's a few ways to ensure they will actually hear you.
3 min read
Image showing a female and male in business attire connecting speech bubble puzzle pieces.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Keep School Staff Motivated All Year Long: Advice From Principals
Here are some of the things—big and small—that school leaders do and say to keep teachers excited about the job.
13 min read
Teachers and faculty play a game of Kahoot! to get to know one another better during a Welcome Back training at CICS Bucktown on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 in Chicago, Ill.
Teachers and faculty play a game to get to know one another better during a Welcome Back training at Chicago's CICS Bucktown in August.
Taylor Glascock for Education Week