Public schools are bleeding students. Education Week reports that, based on a survey of 51 state departments of education, all experience fall-offs in enrollment from the 2019/2020 school year to the 2020/2021 year. The total estimated drop nationally, based on the same evidence, was 1.45 million students who left public schools.
What was the problem? That can only be answered in theory. There are a plethora of ideas, and some of them may be partially true. Perhaps parents found that distance learning was actually a better experience than public school classrooms have been. Others believe that charter schools are more attractive than public schools, although both get government funding. Some parents may have elected to send their children to entirely private schools, in the belief that these offer the very best education.
The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools has issued a report titled “Voting With Their Feet: A State-Level Analysis of Public Charter School and District Public School Enrollment Trends.” At first look, there is a chance the study is self-serving. The work of the alliance is to advocate for the superiority of charter schools, advocacy that targets parents, lawmakers and “thought” leaders.
The primary conclusion of the study is this: “During the 2020-21 school year, charter school enrollment grew 7%, the largest increase in half a decade.” This is presented against the backdrop of the loss of students in the public school system during the same period.
According to the study, public schools lost 3.3% of their enrollment between the two periods.
Among all the states, the size of the swing between public and charter school enrollment was greatest in Oklahoma. Charter school enrollment rose 77.7%. Public school enrollment dropped 6.9%.
Among the weaknesses of the study is that it is a single-year snapshot. A single year does not make a trend. This year is another in which school attendance, in general, almost certainly will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. If and when the virus begins to spread less aggressively, the school attendance figures may change again.
These are the 10 states losing the most public school students:
- Oklahoma (−6.9%)
- Arizona (−6.1%)
- Oregon (−5.5%)
- Mississippi (−5.1%)
- New Hampshire (−5.0%)
- New Mexico (−4.9%)
- Michigan (−4.7%)
- Colorado (−4.5%)
- Maine (−4.5%)
- Massachusetts (−4.2%)