Young children drive 3.3% exodus from Colorado schools

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DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado’s schools are about on par with states of equal size in terms of declining enrollment, and have the same idea to solve it – hope the state legislature keeps the tap running.

The COVID-19 pandemic has all but destroyed the academic environment from preschool through graduate school. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and state governors have insisted in the last month that schools should open back up to in-person learning as soon as possible.

Colorado’s K-12 public schools closed by state decree last academic year and have had a patchwork of online, hybrid and in-person learning rules since then, depending on the district. Parents have responded by pulling children from public schools.

Enrollment numbers from the Colorado Department of Education show frustrations. Colorado has 3.3% fewer students enrolled in public schools for the 2020-21 academic year than for the year before. This is the first time enrollment number have gone down in over 20 years.

Of nearly 200 districts, all but two dozen charted enrollment losses.

Younger students are pulled out in much higher numbers. Preschool enrollment was down 23.3% and kindergarten down 9.1%, while schools added 1.84% to high school senior ranks.

Most states are experiencing similar situations, including the concentrations of preschool and kindergartener unenrollment Gov. Jared Polis and other state leaders have insisted should open to in-person learning more quickly than other school ages.

There is no national compilation of all 50 states’ enrollment data. KDVR’s data was taken from independent studies, state and local studies and media reports.

Colorado’s 3.3% enrollment drop puts it mid-pack among the states with readily available data. The two dozen states analyzed had an average 3.7% fewer students enroll this year than last.

Few political or regional patterns emerge. Neither red nor blue states are represented more or less highly, nor regionally, nor by population. Colorado’s mountain neighbor Montana had a smaller enrollment gap, while Idaho had a larger. Deep red Mississippi had a larger enrollment gap and deep blue Hawaii a smaller one.

Colorado’s state funding model awards money to districts on a per-student basis. Colorado spends less than the national average on students, but is already on a tight budget packed with economic aid carveouts for the state’s coronavirus-bitten economy.

Other states’ teachers unions and school districts have successfully asked their state legislatures to allocate education funding based on the 2019-20 enrollment numbers.

Other have passed measures that smooth budget gaps. Wisconsin, which saw enrollment drop 3% in its public schools in the 2020-21 school year, also passed a measure that increased property taxes earmarked for public schools by 3.3%.

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