Preliminary figures counting the average number of students attending school in the first 20 days of the current school year were released in early November, but full enrollment figures – a more complete picture of the student body – don’t have only been available recently.
The Alabama Education Lab analyzed the numbers, comparing them not only to last year but to the years before the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know.
Alabama public schools gained students overall from last school year, but not all 138 districts saw an increase.
Statewide, enrollment is up: 725,900 compared to 716,084 last year, a gain of more than 9,800 students. This increase makes up for the 9,800 students lost from 2019-20 to 2020-2021, but the numbers show changes in enrollment from pre-pandemic years.
Overall, 78 school districts enrolled more students at the start of this school year than last year. Most of those gains were proportionately small, ranging from an additional student in the Gadsden and Haleyville City school districts to a few hundred in the larger school districts in Baldwin, Shelby and Jefferson counties.
The majority of the districts – 45 of 78 – that saw enrollment gains were urban districts, but 35 county districts also saw an increase. Geographically, the districts that saw the gains are spread across the state, with clusters in northern and southern Alabama.
Enrollment declined in 56 school districts, with eight school districts with 100 or more fewer students than last year. The city of Birmingham saw the biggest drop in enrollment, with 504 fewer students enrolled this year, for a total of 20,345 students across the district. Selma City experienced the second largest drop, registering 293 fewer students this year, leaving 2,390 students enrolled in the district.
Four school districts – Bullock, Henry and Randolph counties and Satsuma City – have the same number of students enrolled this year as they did last year.
Statewide virtual schools and charter schools continued to enroll more students.
Limestone County and the town of Eufaula – home to the Alabama Connections Academy and the Alabama Virtual Academy, respectively – have seen sharp increases again this year, with some students continuing to move towards lifelong distance learning.
Limestone County has added 2,300 district-wide students, of which 2,100 have enrolled in the virtual school. Alabama Connections Academy is now the largest school in the state, with 6,834 students this year, up from 4,727 the year before. During the 2019-2020 school year, 2,478 students were enrolled, meaning the school nearly tripled enrollments during the pandemic.
The city of Eufaula added 339 district-wide students, but their four brick-and-mortar schools all saw a decline from 58 to 87 students. The district virtual school enrolled 443 more students than last year and 1,360 more students than in the 2019-2020 school year. The total enrollment at Alabama Virtual Academy is 4,386, making it the second largest school in the state. (Hoover High School ranks third, with 2,716 students).
The newest statewide virtual school, Destinations Career Academy in Chickasaw City, enrolled 1,661 students this year. This is the first year it has been designated as a separate school, but Superintendent David Wofford told AL.com the virtual school enrolled around 1,500 students last year. The district, like Eufaula, has seen enrollment in its four brick-and-mortar schools decline. Part of this decrease is likely due to the separate accounting for virtual students this year.
All four of the state’s charter schools before 2021 showed an increase in enrollment as all added one or more grade levels to their schools this year. A charter school opened at the start of the 2020-21 school year and three more have opened this year, bringing the total enrollment to charter schools to 2,986, up from 1,948 last year.
Most districts have not returned to pre-pandemic education levels.
Statewide, 86 of Alabama’s 138 districts have fewer students enrolled than in the 2019-20 school year, before the pandemic. Collectively, they enrolled 14,000 fewer students this year compared to the 2019-2020 school year.
Those losses range from 1,717 fewer students in Mobile County – the state’s largest school district – to the loss of just one student in Winston County from 2019-20 to 2021-2022.
Enrollment losses were greatest in Conecuh County (22% fewer students), Choctaw County (14% fewer), Selma Town (13% fewer) and Wilcox (12% less). However, three of those districts were already experiencing a year-over-year decline in enrollments before the pandemic.
There are 4,100 more students in ninth grade this year than last year.
A general overview of the big numbers does not make it possible to understand why there are so many ninth graders, but considering that there are 3,900 more ninth graders this year than there were eighth graders. ‘last year and there are 2,500 under-tenth graders this year than there were ninth graders last year, it appears that many ninth graders last year did not go to tenth grade this year.
What this means for graduation rates going forward is unclear.
There has been a steady decline in the number of Grade 12 students year after year, from a peak of 52,848 seniors in 2017-18. There are 50,345 seniors enrolled this year, about 2,000 less than in Grade 11 last year.
The racial makeup of Alabama public school enrollment continues to change.
Black students and white students still outnumber students of other races, but the number of students of both races has declined since the 2019-2020 school year. There are 240 fewer black students and 7,376 fewer white students enrolled in public schools than before the pandemic.
Native American enrollments fell by 254 students from 2019-20 to 2021-2022, a drop of 4%, the largest overall percentage drop among races.
Hispanic student enrollment increased 6,906, or 10%, over the same period.
In a break from previous reports, the race was not given for 613 students. This category – “not reported” – has not been used since the 2010-2011 school year.
Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of Alabama public school students over the past 10 years.
While public school enrollment has rebounded to some extent, it is unclear exactly where all of the missing students have gone. Alabama does not keep figures on the number of students attending private school or home schooling.
Parents angry at school mask warrants said they plan to remove their children from public schools. Other parents, worried that protections against the coronavirus were not strong enough, said they would remove their children as well.
The table below shows the registrations for each district over the past five years. Charter schools are reported as a separate district.
The map below shows an overview of whether a school district enrolled more or fewer students than last year, and a comparison of that year and the 2019-2020 school year, before the pandemic . Click here if you can’t see the maps.