Stock photo

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Public school enrollment drops 2.8% across the state

One-third of decrease attributed to kindergarten-age children

Enrollment in public schools has dropped across the state so far this fall.

Compared to September 2019, September 2020 data shows a 2.82% decrease in enrollment (or nearly 31,000 students out of nearly 1.1 million total) in Washington’s public K–12 schools, according to a news release Wednesday, Oct. 7 from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Each month during the school year, Washington’s public K–12 school districts count how many students are enrolled in classes. These data tells OSPI which communities are growing, how many students are taking advantage of alternative learning and dual credit opportunities, which areas should be thinking about building new or expanding current school buildings, and more.

The data are also used to determine the amount of state funding districts will receive to pay for the staffing, materials, technology, and other supports that help our students succeed.

About one-third (more than 11,000 students) of the total decrease is attributed to kindergarten-age children not enrolling or delaying their kindergarten start. By grade level, kindergarten saw the largest decrease in enrollment—14%—from September 2019 to September 2020. Across the board, the early grades experienced larger declines in enrollment than the later grades.

“We are not alone in this,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, in the news release. “As our nation continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, states across the country are seeing changes in K–12 enrollment as families make decisions about the safest and most effective learning environments for their children.”

“Counts are taken every month, and if these trends continue, many of our districts will need to make adjustments in the short-term even as they plan for booming kindergarten and first grade classes next year,” Reykdal said. “We will continue working with the Legislature and our congressional delegation on solutions to these unique challenges.”

Washington is also seeing a shift in the number of students enrolled in alternative learning experience (ALE) courses, which are public education courses where some or all instruction is delivered outside of a regular classroom schedule.

Compared to September of last year, ALE programs experienced a nearly 50% increase in student enrollment, increasing from roughly 30,000 students to 44,000.

“With the uncertainty of what this school year would bring, it is not a surprise to see these shifts in enrollment,” Reykdal said. “However, most of our districts are working around the clock to simultaneously provide instruction at a distance while preparing for a return to in-person learning. As families make important decisions about their children’s’ learning, I strongly encourage them to stay connected to their local school district to ensure a smooth transition as safe in-person learning options return.”

The connection between enrollment and state funding

Schools are provided state funding through the Prototypical School Funding Model. The model, developed by the Legislature, determines how much funding each school will be provided in order to pay for staffing, materials, and supplies.

The funds are determined based on student enrollment. For example, if an elementary school has 500 students enrolled, the school is provided an allocation for about 34 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff for grades K–3. Schools are provided more or less funding for staff FTE, materials, and supplies based on the number of students enrolled in the school.

When a student disenrolls from a school district for any reason, the district will end up losing a portion of their state funding if that student doesn’t return or is not replaced by a different student.

From September through December, state funds provided to school districts are determined by the estimated full-time equivalent provided by the district through the budgeting process. Each year starting in January, the state adjusts funding for the remainder of the school year based on the average student enrollment from September through the current month.

Further analysis coming soon

These data represent the first look at public K–12 enrollment for the 2020–21 school year. In the coming weeks and months, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction will share expanded enrollment data, including data on regional differences in enrollment, transfer patterns, changes in Running Start enrollment, changes in home-based instruction enrollment and more.


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