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New enrollment data shows schools haven't recovered

Posted Date: 01/21/2022

New enrollment data shows schools haven't recovered

Last school year, the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, public school district enrollment dropped 15,667 students, or 3.2 percent, the most significant enrollment decline since current records began in 1992-93. 

This year, enrollment increased by 3,308 students, or 0.7 percent, meaning enrollment in pre-K through 12 programs in public schools remains over 12,000 students below the peak in 2019-20. 

These numbers are based on KASB’s analysis of unaudited headcount enrollment reports from Kansas State Department of Education, using the Sept. 20 enrollment count data. School funding, which is tied to enrollment, is based on audited numbers under a more complex formula explained below. 

KASB also examined enrollment reports from accredited public schools, which share enrollment information with KSDE. 

Last year, accredited private school enrollment declined by 799 students, or 3.0 percent. This year enrollment increased by 519, or 2.0 percent, which means private schools enrollment recovered more than public school enrollment but remains below pre-pandemic levels. 

Non-accredited private schools and home schools are not required to report enrollment, so it is not clear to what extend the decline in public and accredited private enrollment means more students are attending non-accredited and home schools, are not attending school at all, or have left the state. 



Changes in enrollment by age and grade level 

Last year, almost half of the decline in public school enrollment was in kindergarten and preschool for special education and at-risk students, plus over 1,000 students in district preschool day care programs not funded by the state. Enrollment in these programs dropped by nearly 12 percent. Some wondered whether those families were simply delaying starting their children in school due to the pandemic and would return this year. 

In fact, enrollment in pre-K and kindergarten classes increased by 4,821 this year, or 9 percent; but those gains were offset by a further decline of 2,378 this year in grades 1-8.  


Accredited private schools also had a proportionately larger decline in pre-k and kindergarten programs last year, down 287, or 8.6 percent, and a larger recovery in enrollment this year, up 207, or 6.8 percent, compared to other grades. These schools also increased grade 1-8 enrolment by 300, but high school enrollment declined 329 this year, or 5.0 percent. Public high school enrollment increased by 1,510, or 1.0 percent. 

Changes in enrollment by student groups 

The number of public school students reported as qualifying for free and reduced-price meals declined by over 12,000 this year, or 5.6 percent. That dropped low-income students as a share of total public school enrollment to 43 percent, the lowest percentage since 2009. School leaders say at least part of this decline is due to the fact the federal government is allowing all families to receive free meals without having to fill out income forms to quality. School districts have been asking families to complete a Household Economic Survey to determine if they would qualify for free or reduce-price meals but cannot require families to do so. 

However, while many Kansans lost jobs and income during the first months of the pandemic, as the economy has recovered many workers are getting more hours and higher wages, which could reduce the number of families qualifying for meal assistance. 

Free and reduced-price-eligible students are also down in private schools, by 4.0 percent, to 17.8 percent of total enrollment, the lowest level since 2013. 

low income and special education enrollment graph showing funding levels

After dropping by 1,576 students last year, the number of public school students receiving special education services increased this year by 2,726 to 76,306, the highest number ever and the highest percentage of total enrollment ever at 15.9 percent. 

The number of accredited private school students in special education dropped by 73 last year and increased by 1 this year to 1,130, or 4.3 percent of accredited private school enrollment. (Many private school students received special education services from public schools.) 

Virtual Enrollment 

The number of students attending district-funded on-line virtual schools rose sharply last during the COVID-19 pandemic, with full-time enrollment rising from 5,658 in 2020 to 9,932 in 2021, and part-time enrollment rising from 1,051 to 1,389. Those numbers dropped modestly this year, to 9,371 full-time and 1,115 part-time, indicating that some students are returning to in person classroom, but many want to continue virtually. 

These students are counted in the enrollment school districts but are funded differently. 

Impact on Funding 

The foundation of school district funding is the district general fund. Districts receive a base state aid per pupil amount based on both actual students and “weighted” student. First, districts receive the base state aid per pupil for each full-time equivalent student actually enrolled, using either the prior year or second prior year’s enrollment, whichever is higher. That means districts most districts are using 2019-20 enrollment, the year before the pandemic impacted the September 20 count date. Next year, they will have to use either the 2021 enrollment, which declined 3.2 percent from 2020, or the current year, which recovered to a degree but remains well below 2020 levels. 

Districts receive base state aid per pupil for “weighted” students based on various weighting factors in the school finance formula. In other words, districts get to count additional students for certain higher cost programs, such as at-risk and bilingual education, low enrollment and transportation. Unlike the actual student count, weighted student counts are used in “current” year, not the prior years. 

This year, district budgets are based on a total about 470,000 “actual” students using prior years, and about 200,000 “weighted” students.  

The largest weighting factor is at-risk funding, which is based on the number of free lunch eligible students and is used to provide assistance to students with academic difficulties, regardless of income status. Because the number of free lunch eligible students has declined, districts will receive less at-risk funding than if enrollment was unchanged. 

It should be noted that the base amount per pupil has been increasing since 2018 under the Gannon school finance plan adopted by the Kansas Legislature and approved by the Kansas Supreme Court. As a result, total school general funds are increasing, despite declining enrollment last year and this year. However, a number of districts are expected to face smaller general fund budgets next year as a result of enrollment declines, even with higher base per pupil amounts. 

There is an exception for virtual students. Students in these school districts are counted at a flat $5,000 rate for full-time students and generate no weighing, with a lower amount for part-time students, and are counted in the current year.