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Public and private school enrollment falls, highest decline in lowest grades

Posted Date: 12/09/2020

Public and private school enrollment falls, highest decline in lowest grades

Enrollment in both public and accredited private schools in Kansas declined more than 3 percent from last fall, with the largest drop in preschool and lower grades, according to unaudited headcount figures released by the Kansas Department of Education.

Statewide enrollment in public schools dropped 15,667 students in grades K-12 and state funded preschool programs, from 492,102 last year to 477,196, or 3.0 percent. Counting children in preschool programs not funded by the state brings the total decline to 16,034, or 3.2 percent.

Enrollment in state accredited private schools dropped 799 students in K-12, from 26,449 to 25,650, or 3 percent. Counting children in day care programs operated by these schools brings the total decline to 977, or 3.6 percent.

The declines were not uniform across all grades, especially in public schools. Over one-third of the public school enrollment decline was in kindergarten, at-risk and special education preschool programs and district day care programs. Another third was in grade 1-4. Grades 5-8 lost less than 2 percent and high school enrollment was almost unchanged. Districts lost another 400 students in “non-graded programs,” primarily drop-out recovery services for students over age 18.

Private schools also had the largest percentage lost in pre-K and day care programs, but also had a 5.7% decline in high school programs.

For public school students, the decline was greater than average for Black, American Indian and Free Lunch Eligible male students, with the largest percent decline for students eligible for reduced price meals. Special education students declined less than the overall average.

At private schools, Black and Asian males had the largest declines, along with reduced price lunch eligible students. American Indian males actually increased while females declined. (Note: several racial/ethnic categories are estimates because the groups that contain less than 10 students and are not reported because of federal privacy laws.) Special education enrollment at private schools decreased more than the overall average, unlike public schools which had a smaller decline in special education.

These enrollment figures only cover public schools and accredited private schools. Although non-accredited private schools, which under Kansas law include home schools, are required by law to register with KSDE, they do not provide enrollment data. Based on U.S. census data on the population of Kansans age 5-19, last year public schools enrolled approximately 89 percent of school age students; accredited private schools about 5 percent; and about 6 percent of children were in non-accredited nonpublic schools, home schools, or not attending any school.

Public schools were expecting some enrollment declines as a result of the COVID pandemic, because some families did not want their students attending schools for onsite learning because of concerns they could catch the virus. Other families may have opposed sending students to school because of mask requirement. Others objected to districts’ decisions to operate remote or hybrid classes because they wanted their children in onsite programs.

These numbers indicate that most of the unexpected decline in enrollment was among the youngest students. Kindergarten and preschool students are not required to attend school, and parents may have the most health concerns about the youngest children. For many of these students, it may not be so much “dropping out” of school as simply not starting as planned. That may indicate that most of these students will return next year if the COVID pandemic is considered under control.

The fact that private schools also saw the largest declines in preschool and kindergarten suggests families in those schools have similar concerns as public schools. It was thought the desire for onsite learning might increase private school enrollment where those schools were open onsite and public schools were not. The new enrollment data suggest that if this happened, it was more than offset by private school families opting out of in person learning. Higher unemployment and lower family income might also have impacted tuition-based private school enrollment.

Some students are not attending onsite school programs but are still enrolled and attending virtually. The state expects virtual enrollment to increase by 5,337 this year, but those students are already included in enrollments of districts that operate those programs. Other students are enrolled in public schools but taking all courses remotely. Those students are counted as regularly enrolled students, even if they are not attending courses in person.

Public schools enroll higher percentages of non-white students except for Asians, and significantly higher percentages of free lunch and reduced line eligible students and special education students.