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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Public schools lost 1.3 million students

Nearly 1.3 million students left district-run public schools in the last two years, estimates the Return to Learn tracker.

Districts’ pandemic policies were a major factor, says Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute. Districts that returned to in-person more quickly have regained more of their pre-pandemic enrollment.

Districts that reopened schools quickly didn’t lose much enrollment. Photo: Rodnae Productions/Pexels

The district who stayed remote the longest lost 4.4 percent of enrollment, about one in 22 students, over the last two years. The most in-person districts lost one in 93 students.

Enrollment loss was 3.8 percent for districts with the most masking, 2.2 percent for districts with average policies and 1.5 percent for low-masking districts.

Voting patterns didn’t affect enrollment in 2020-21, but it did in the pandemic’s second year. “In 2021–22, most districts that voted for Trump rebounded, while enrollment continued to fall in those that voted for Biden.”

Public schools are funded by the number of students that show up, notes Shawn Hubler in the New York Times. If enrollment doesn’t recover, districts will take a “seismic hit” in funding.

Some parents became so fed up with remote instruction or mask mandates that they started home-schooling their children or sending them to private or parochial schools that largely remained open during the pandemic. And other families were thrown into such turmoil by pandemic-related job losses, homelessness and school closures that their children simply dropped out. . . . “This has been a seismic hit to public education,” said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. “Student outcomes are low. Habits have been broken. School finances are really shaken. We shouldn’t think that this is going to be like a rubber band that bounces back to where it was before.”

Large urban districts have lost the most students. These are also districts that delayed the return to in-person classes.

“In some states where schools eschewed remote instruction — Florida, for instance — enrollment has not only rebounded, but remains robust,” writes Hubler.

Private schools, which reopened more quickly, gained students.

Some rural resort areas are seeing more students: Tech workers, and others able to work from home, relocated during the pandemic.

Los Angeles Unified expects enrollment to fall by nearly 30 percent in the next decade, reports the Los Angeles Times. School closures have accelerated the decline: Enrollment peaked at 737,000 students 21 years ago and is now 430,000.

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