Public School Enrollment Down Second Year In A Row

Public school enrollment is reported down for the second consecutive year again, as officials start the new year with hopes of a rebound.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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public school enrollment

Public school enrollment decreased for the second consecutive year in 2021. While many districts had hopes that a return to in-person learning and relaxed masking policies would encourage enrollment, the previous school year indicates that the education system continued suffering less support. Whether this will carry on into the upcoming 2022-2023 school year is a serious topic that many school officials are questioning. 

In 2019 50.8 million children made up public school enrollment. In 2020 this dropped to 49.4 million and leveled off at 49.5 million last year. Educators expecting to reach pre-pandemic levels are looking at these numbers and questioning how to draw students back to taxpayer-funded schools. 

State-by-state breakdowns also display a clearer picture of the situation. Idaho, Montana, and Pennsylvania saw the largest student increases between the fall of 2020 and 2021, whereas New York saw the largest decline of 2% and California experienced a decline of 1.8%. These states are also some of the most progressive in the nation and may serve as an indicator as to why public school enrollment drops are so drastic in some areas while increases are expanding in others.

To put this in perspective, some of the sharpest public school enrollment declines were up to 5% back in 2020. Being that preschool and kindergarten enrollment is going up, school officials are hopeful that grade school levels will even out. In order to take advantage of this encouraging information, many schools are hosting community efforts to draw families back into the system. Even the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has noted that “reengaging” students and families “must be a top priority.” 

Although 2021 displayed a slight improvement, grades 1-7 continued to experience public school enrollment declines. Districts across the nation have also lost 200,000 white students between the fall of 2020 and 2021. This may be due to political campaigns in schools that are believed to punish white students more harshly than minority students for committing the same acts, instituting race-based admissions, and the constant inundation of “anti-racist” practices which often promote racial bias against white Americans by teaching that white people are “inherently racist” and adhere to the idea that the country is “systematically racist”.

While parents feared for their children’s safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, school politics also became a major issue for families fleeing the system. The Biden Administration has instructed the Federal Department of Education to incorporate critical race theory and gender theory lessons into classroom learning, and parents who oppose these practices have been forced to seek alternative education options. In addition, many public school test scores are well below proficiency rates and chronic absenteeism is a growing issue. While public school enrollment is down, some educators are looking at the breakdown of demographics and hoping that this trend may soon level off. 

public school enrollment

As more states focus on protecting parental rights and returning to unbiased teaching practices, this may be a successful endeavor. Families who walked away from the system in wake of excessive pandemic protocols and other political efforts may find these changes acceptable. Public school enrollment has been on the decline for the past two years, and the success of the 2022-2023 school year is dependent on enrollment, attendance, proper staffing, curriculum, and community support.