(The Center Square) – Schools across Wisconsin have not yet rebounded from enrollment losses during the coronavirus outbreak.
A recent report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum found more than 4,500 students are still “missing.”
“PreK-12 enrollment in Wisconsin’s public schools plummeted in the 2020-21 school year by over 25,000 students, or 2.9%, the largest single-year decline in at least 35 years. Previous Forum research documented this drop occurring alongside a decrease in private school enrollment, an increase in homeschool enrollment, and the apparent choice by many parents and guardians to delay sending their youngest children to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report stated.
“Some may have expected – and indeed hoped – to see enrollment numbers rebound. Instead, fall 2021 and fall 2022 data show that public school enrollment kept falling, by an additional 792 students in 2021-22 and another 6,339 students in 2022-23, down to 822,804. The total three-year decline was 32,155 students.”
The Policy Forum says 3,742 of those students enrolled in private schools, and another 7,209 enrolled as homeschoolers. The Policy Forum says Wisconsin schools lost another 16,800 students to the “pre-pandemic enrollment decline,” which leaves about 4,500 students “missing.”
The Policy Forum says some may have been kindergartners who were not enrolled because of the coronavirus.
“Our 2021 research identified that pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment saw the greatest declines from fall 2019 to fall 2020, at least in part due to families opting to delay sending their youngest children to school during the pandemic. Attendance in Wisconsin schools is not mandatory until age 6, meaning that many of these children could remain out of school without consequence at least for the first year of COVID-19. In addition, some students may have been homeschooled but not included in statewide numbers because homeschool enrollment collection in Wisconsin does not begin until the first grade,” the report said.
The report also said there are unexplained enrollment drops in sixth, seventh and eighth grade as well.
There are concerns about the “missing” students, not the least of which is where the children are being educated, the report said.
“Whatever the true number of missing students, every child disconnected from school – whether they left or failed to enter the state’s formal education system – should be cause for concern. Beyond the crucial impacts to the children themselves, the loss of students also deprives the state of educated workers and future economic growth,” the authors wrote. “For school districts, these efforts to reclaim students have an added urgency. The loss of students will result in substantial negative financial impacts to districts, which can lose state and federal funding when enrollment declines. Each student lost means less available in the long term to pay teachers, procure materials, and improve curricula. Many of these costs do not diminish on a per-student basis, putting pressure on districts’ budgets. Some experts are predicting a wave of disruptive school closures nationally as enrollments fall across much of the country.”