Enrollment drop could cost WA schools $500M in state funding
SEATTLE (AP) — New state data shows school systems in Washington still have not recovered their enrollment losses from the pandemic.
The Seattle Times reports that between October 2019 and October 2020, 39,000 fewer students enrolled in public school, about a 3.5% drop. The numbers weren’t distributed evenly across grades — the most pronounced losses were among younger students; the number of kindergarten students plummeted by 14%. By this fall, the state’s enrollment had only grown by a thousand students.
The drop in enrollment is bad news for public schools financially. Collectively, school districts will lose about $500 million in state funding in the next budget, according to state Superintendent Chris Reykdal.
He has already signaled that he will ask state lawmakers to hold funds steady for the districts, which receive dollars based on the size of their rosters.
Districts have been tallying up the damage. Seattle is down 3,400 students since 2019. This year, the district estimates it will operate with $28 million less in funding, according to a recent Seattle School Board presentation. There is “potential” for some of those students to return during the second semester of the year now that the vaccine is available for children ages 5 through 11, the presentation said.
For the short term, money from the pandemic federal stimulus packages aimed at schools should exceed the money lost by enrollment declines in most school districts, according to an analysis from Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab.
At the same time, the state’s home-schooled population has ballooned, nearly doubling in size during the first full school year of the pandemic, 2020-21.
Home-schooled students grew from 21,000 to 40,000 students between 2019 and 2020.
There isn’t a count yet available for home-schooled kids this school year, but Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair for the Washington Homeschool Organization, says she expects the number to hold steady.