The numbers are in for Colorado and they do not paint a pretty picture. According to a report released by the state Department of Education, Colorado school enrollment remains far below its pre-pandemic numbers. It appears that students are not coming back and it is an issue public schools are having a hard time addressing.
The state doesn’t have to push the panic button just yet. While the numbers don’t give off a positive vibe, state officials can point to the fact that while enrollment numbers in Colorado schools continue to lag behind pre-Covid numbers, they are actually up from last year’s count. The school census counted 886,517 students across the state, which represents a 3,318 increase from last year’s numbers. This 0.4% increase is not huge, but at least it is positive.
What’s concerning school officials, though, is the new number is far behind the 913,000-student count in the fall of 2019. Current Colorado school enrollment now sits around 2.9% below that 2019 level. School officials are not sure when or if they will see numbers hit that level again.
When COVID hit and schools began to shutter, students stopped communicating with their schools. School districts then tried reaching out to students but had a hard time doing so. They spent a lot of time and effort to no avail and now it is beginning to show in the lack of numbers. Even with all the effort school officials put in, less than 600 schools in Colorado showed increased enrollment numbers compared to 2019. Conversely, over double that number of schools remain below their 2019 count.
State officials say that some of the declines in numbers can be attributed to long-term demographic trends. Other reasons include families making alternate educational choices for their children. When Colorado schools closed down due to the pandemic, many of the students remained at home to continue their education.
According to the state Department of Education, though, the homeschooling numbers have actually decreased from what they were last year. This year there are 10,502 students homeschooling throughout the state, a big drop from the 15,773 that homeschooled last year. Still, today’s numbers are nowhere near the 7,880 students who were homeschooled in 2019. The pandemic continues to have its last effect.
Looking at the Colorado school numbers even more closely there is a stark divide across racial lines. While the numbers of Hispanic students enrolled has actually increased, the numbers of white and black students attending public school has plummeted. According to the Colorado Department of Education, the number of white students enrolling has dropped 4% over the decade. Enrollment numbers for Black students have also seen a significant decline. Enrollment numbers for Black students dropped for the second year in a row and now they sit 2% lower than from ten years ago.
Asian American students also saw a drop, though their numbers still are over 6% higher than they were ten years ago. The only growth seen in enrollment was by Hispanic students who now sit with over 12% growth since 2011.
Colorado school enrollment numbers are not the only ones in decline. Public schools across the nation are being hit hard by declining numbers as parents become dissatisfied with what they offer. According to a recent report by NPR, even the largest school districts are hurting. In New York City, this year’s enrollment numbers have dropped around 13,000 students, and this followed last year’s huge decline of over 38,000 students. On the West Coast, their biggest school district in Los Angeles has seen a 9,000-student decrease after taking a 17,000 hit last school year. And in Chicago, where they have the largest teacher’s union, they saw a 10,000 drop in student enrollment this year after seeing 14,000 not return last year.
For public schools, the numbers are concerning. School choice is the topic du jour and parents want it. In fact, more and more parents are getting it. They have many politicians in their corner, who also feel parents should be able to decide where to take their education funds. Whether this eventually means a boost for public schools remains to be seen. But as long as we continue to be mired in COVID and its numerous variants, as long as schools continue to shutter, Colorado public schools, as well as the many school districts across the country, will continue to see their enrollment numbers drop.