Public School Enrollment Plummets as Private Schools See Gains

by | Nov 10, 2020 | Headline News | 5 comments

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    This article was originally published by Kerry McDonald at the Foundation for Economic Freedom. 

    Ongoing and renewed shutdowns of public schools across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in astonishing public school enrollment drops.

    NPR recently reported that public school districts in at least 20 states have seen shrinking numbers of students this fall, with Orange County and Miami-Dade County in Florida down 8,000 and 16,000 public school students, respectively. Los Angeles public school enrollment has dropped by nearly 11,000 students.

    Families are increasingly turning away from public schooling and toward private education options during the pandemic—a trend that is likely to continue even after the virus fades.

    Since March, US parents have been put back in charge of their children’s education in unprecedented ways. Zoom schooling has given them a peek into what their children are actually learning (or not learning) in their classrooms, and ongoing school closures have encouraged families to pursue education options beyond their assigned district school. Many families have withdrawn their children from a district school in recent months in favor of independent homeschooling or private schooling, or have decided to delay their child’s kindergarten entry.

    According to a recent Gallup poll, the rate of homeschooling has doubled since last year to nearly 10 percent, while the rate of children enrolled in a district school declined seven percent to 76 percent of the overall US K-12 student population.

    New state-level data offers more insight into this exodus from public schooling. In Connecticut, officials report that public school enrollment is down more than 15,000 students or about three percent, with much of that drop due to fewer children enrolled in public kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs. At the same time, homeschooling numbers in Connecticut are more than six times higher than they were last year, with over 3,500 children opting out of public schooling for homeschooling this year alone.

    Other states are seeing similar shifts away from public schooling this fall. In Utah, public school enrollment has dropped for the first time in 20 years, while homeschooling numbers in the state have tripled this year. In Arizona, public school enrollment is down 50,000 students, or about five percent of the school-age population, with an associated uptick in homeschooling. The state has also seen a 14 percent drop in kindergarten enrollment. In Montana, public school enrollment is down approximately 3,300 students over last year and homeschooling numbers are up. School officials there are worried about state funding cuts as public school enrollment falls.

    Indeed, this is a prime moment to advocate for education choice policies, such as education savings accounts, that enable education funding to follow children wherever they learn, rather than funding the bureaucratic school systems that more families are rejecting. Critics argue that the flight from public schools toward private options during the pandemic deepens inequality, but expanding education choice mechanisms ensures that all parents have the opportunity to select the learning option that works best for their children.

    The Reason Foundation’s Corey DeAngelis has written extensively about funding students, not systems. He explains: “This is exactly how we fund many other taxpayer-funded initiatives, including Pell Grants for higher education and prekindergarten programs. For these programs, funding goes to families who can then choose from a wide array of public or private providers of the service. The same goes for food stamps. In these scenarios, the power is rightly in the hands of families rather than institutions.”

    It is clear that growing numbers of families are opting for private education options during the pandemic, and many more would likely leave their assigned district school now and in the future if they could access some of their education tax dollars that are currently ensnared in public school systems.

    Some private schools are seeing enrollment jumps during the pandemic, even as public school numbers fall. According to a recent analysis by the Cato Institute, nearly one-quarter of private schools surveyed indicated that their enrollment has grown over last year. Catholic schools and independent private schools in some states have also seen enrollment boosts. These schools have been more responsive to parental demand for in-person learning while public schools remain closed, often due to teacher union pressure.

    In Boston, interest in Catholic schools soared over the summer when Massachusetts teacher unions announced a push for remote learning only, while the state’s parochial schools committed to in-person learning. Thomas Carroll, the head of Boston’s Catholic schools, said the enrollment demand from parents was immediate. In an interview with Boston NPR, Carroll explained: “When it hit the evening news, our phone(s) started ringing off the hook all across all of our 100 schools…I joke that we should send a thank you note to the school districts, because of their tone deafness, in terms of what the parents were looking for.”

    The reopening of in-person learning in these Catholic schools has not led to widespread coronavirus infections. Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, recently praised them as an example for public schools to follow. “The kids in schools are not spreaders of Covid,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Baker. “I mean, there’s no better example of that right now than the parochial schools in Massachusetts. They have 28,000 kids and 4,000 employees who have been back in-person learning since the middle of August, and they have a handful of cases.”

    Parent demand for in-person learning during the pandemic is prompting an expansion of private education possibilities, including low-cost options that are more accessible to more families. Pandemic learning pods are widely popular, allowing small groups of children to gather together in private homes with a hired teacher, or with parents taking turns facilitating instruction. As these affordable, versatile pods take more children away from district schools, it’s perhaps not surprising that bureaucrats are declaring war on them with regulatory burdens. But parental demand for flexible, high-quality, low-cost learning options is unlikely to wane, particularly as parents gain a greater appreciation for private education during the pandemic.

    Thales Academy, for example, is a North Carolina-based network of low-cost private schools that is expanding during the pandemic even as public school enrollment in the state plunges. Founded more than a decade ago by entrepreneur Bob Luddy who was frustrated with the bureaucracy and poor outcomes of North Carolina’s public schools, Thales Academy has grown to 11 campuses in three states, enrolling more than 3,600 students at an annual tuition cost of about $5,500 a year, plus generous scholarship programs to off-set the cost even further for many families.

    The pandemic has disrupted families’ lives in countless ways, and the impact of school closures and remote learning has been particularly challenging. Many parents are embracing homeschooling and other private education options that are more flexible and responsive to their needs. With an assortment of innovative, low-cost, high-quality private education options attracting more families, plummeting public school enrollment during the pandemic may become permanent.


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      1. This all makes perfect sense.As everyone knows by now,the covid 19 virus is very intelligent and can think/react on demand.Only public school students will be infected because the killer “virus” is completely aware it will not be allowed to enter a private school.Thus,the covid will turn around and look for a public school to infect and terrorize.The intelligence of this virus is truly something to behold. Makes you wonder what college/university this virus attended to become so damn smart??

      2. Aside from the fact that the public school system has become a Marxist/Terrorist trying institution I don’t know what everyone is COMPLAINING about; gee, don’t you all have a sense of Humor?!
        (Sarc off)
        Completely OT…but absolute Must-Read. Go over to a site called monsterhunternation and read through what the guy there has to say. He spent a career as an auditor and he has done some rather Sterling research and analysis on the statistical issues involved. Plus, heseriously Witty as well.

        To the Joe Buden Campaign and Transition Staff,
        Fuck you very much; you’ll never stand in the oval Office again.
        you POS…NUFF SAID, AMEN!


      3. I went to a nominally “Christian” school, once, which took-in public school expulsions — a few of whom were in the Rodney King riots and literal rapists. There was no pre-condition that students attending this jungle be saved, or even that they act like Christians, except if we were supposed to dress for chapel; it was mainly a front for local, financial interests. Did we look the part?

        This social institution of compulsory education is supposedly covered by a property tax. The power to tax is the power to destroy.

        Even under this distance-learning format, schooling is still used as an excuse for external authority to look inside of your home, and to steal it, over misspent taxes, and to steal your children, for ulterior purposes.

        Have you ever been where dogs are bred? The mother will forever be on guard about the other bitches stealing her puppies. Do you have an eye for these situations? Watch those two-legged, closely. Why must you be held, under external authority, for x amount of hours, daily?

        Productive people would have apprenticed their own young into remunerative trade, by biological maturity.

        Those incapable of being self-starters need not be trained at public expense; if they are still capable of reading and writing, it will be used for terroristic purposes of deconstructing Christian patriarchy.

      4. I saw this happen in Canada ten years ago. And it had everything to do with out of control immigration and the disruption this causes to schools. Mothers eventually snap and take their children out of public schools and get them as far away as possible from troubled blacks, violent Muslims and the other assorted polyglot of races.

      5. The single neighbor lady wanted me to toughen-up her boy.

        He wins fights, now.

        Is still a conscientious non-participator.

        If there are to be any signs of civilization left, history will remember public schooling as a place where the unwanted poor were warehoused — like the workhouse, debtor’s prison, reform school, asylums, or olden orphanage. Anyone intelligent or rich-enough to avoid it should consider the public school / jungle experience a fall from grace. Even (admittedly) communist countries (which admit to their own communism) hate the state school.

        Schooling has probably never been any different, since the little red schoolhouse was a church. Who has literally believed in the Marxist version, in any generation? When kids were still doing the Bellamy salute, uniforms resembled maids and butlers. Fingernails were checked for dirt. They were being trained as washladies, typists, and menial factory labor — like in China’s “Great Leap Forward” forcing people from independent life on a farm, talking about progress before labor rights and before all the gears and flywheels were covered.

        Where do you expect this to get you, now that your production has been outsourced?

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