According to NCES national data, we are in the midst of a cliff. Not just the ESSER cliff when federal Covid-19 recovery dollars will come to an end. That is already confounding grants administration and grant compliance leaders. We are in the midst of an enrollment cliff and every single state is impacted. Axios reports that over 1 million students left public K12 last year. The most significant dips are in primary grades. Why does this matter? It’s a leading indicator for the next 10 years in terms of FTE and funding. 

Here are the deets:

  • Prekindergarten and Kindergarten: 13 percent decrease
  • Grades 1 to 8: 3 percent decrease
  • Grades 9 to 12: 0.4 percent increase

State Summary:

  • Mississippi and Vermont had the largest percent declines (5 percent), and Washington, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Maine also had declines of 4 percent or more.
  • 18 states had declines of 3 percent or more.
  • 29 states had declines between 1 percent and 2.99 percent.
  • The District of Columbia, South Dakota, and Utah had changes in enrollment of less than 1 percent.

Why is this happening?

  1. Demographic Changes: Changes in birth rates, population migration patterns, and overall population growth can directly impact school enrollments. If there are fewer children being born or families are moving away from a particular region, it can lead to decreased enrollment.
  2. Private Schools: The growth of private schools can draw students away from public schools, leading to a decrease in enrollment. Families with resources reentered schooling post-pandemic by choosing private over public schools.
  3. Homeschooling: Homeschooling has become an increasingly popular choice for some families, particularly in situations where parents feel they can provide a more tailored education or have concerns about the quality of public schooling. The availability of online education and remote learning options might attract students who find this approach more flexible or suitable for their needs.
  4. Economic Factors: Economic downturns have led to families relocating due to job changes or financial instability, which can impact enrollment numbers. In some cases, families might also need to move to areas with lower costs of living, which could influence their schooling choices.
  5. Demographic Shifts: Changes in the composition of the population can result in declining enrollment.
  6. Policy Changes: Changes in education policies, such as changes to attendance zones, school funding, or curriculum standards, can influence families’ decisions regarding public school enrollment.

These shifts have various implications for public school superintendents. Consider Anchorage where FTE and funding have hit the community hard. The Superintendent made a heartfelt case to the community, who accepted the changes with bittersweet courage. Denver schools are using a constituent committee to explore options and make recommendations to their school board. San Antonio has mapped out the case for enrollment declines positioning parents as partners in the new reality.

EduSolve worked with multiple district leaders to organize a self-checkfor executive leadership to help them get ready for potential closures and the road ahead.

One thing is clear in the immediate, potential budget cuts, resource reallocation, and changes in staffing are only a few of the new strategies that will be necessary in the coming years as school closures become part of the norm.

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