NEW JERSEY — A deep decline in public school enrollment nationwide could have lasting effects in New Jersey, some of which could extend far beyond the pandemic.
New analysis by The Associated Press and Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering education, shows student enrollment plummeted in nearly every US state, including New Jersey last year. .
Hawaii was the only exception, where registrations rose a meager 0.2%.
The pandemic is likely the culprit for these steep declines, according to the AP’s analysis.
When schools went online during the pandemic, many parents opted to send their children elsewhere. While some pulled children out of public schools to homeschool them, others enrolled their children in private schools as many continued to offer in-person instruction.
Now, some school officials fear those students may never return, the AP reported. If they don’t, it’s a change that could not only affect district funding, but also change the demographics of American schools.
The largest decline was among economically disadvantaged students, where enrollment fell by -10.02%.
Here’s a look at how enrollment has changed among other New Jersey groups:
- Black students: -1.66%
- Hispanic students: -1.33%
- Asian American students: -1.27%
- White students: -5.54%
- Economically disadvantaged students: -10.02%
- Non-economically disadvantaged students: 1.33%
Nationally, K-12 enrollment fell 2.6% in 41 states last fall, according to analysis by the AP and Chalkbeat.
The decline was most pronounced among white students, whose enrollment fell more than 4%.
Early signs show that enrollment may not fully recover, according to the AP report. A sustained decline in enrollment could mean two things.
First, schools that lose students will eventually lose funding for those students.
Generally, public schools are funded per student through federal, state, and local sources. Nearly half of these funds come from local property taxes. Fewer students could mean an increase in property taxes to offset the decrease in per-student funding.
A drop in enrollment is also likely to hit the wallets of poorer districts harder, Bruce Baker, a professor of education at Rutgers University, told National Public Radio.
“If you have a district where 70, 80 percent of the money comes from state aid based on a certain enrollment number, which would tend to be a poorer district serving a higher share high of low-income and minority students,” Baker said, “these districts stand to lose a great deal if the state decides to continue using this year’s enrollment numbers as a funding base going forward. .”
An October 2020 report from NPR showed that declines in enrollment are particularly noticeable in kindergarten and kindergarten – the average decline was about 16%. Another analysis of 33 states showed that about 30% of all K-12 enrollment declines were attributable to kindergarten.
The AP and Chalkbeat report also corroborated this. In New Jersey, kindergarten enrollment fell -9.05%.
Nationally, no state has avoided a decline in kindergarten enrollment. Some of the largest declines were reported in other states, including Hawaii, where kindergarten enrollment fell more than 15%, and Oregon, where enrollment fell more than 14.5%.
Instead, parents choose to send their young children to charter schools or daycares. As more children forgo the academic and other benefits of kindergarten, experts say, it could potentially deepen education inequities
“It all has to do with the quality of that care setting,” Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies child care and early education, told Chalkbeat. “Affluent parents can buy their place in high-quality environments regardless of the constraints they face, while families with fewer resources have fewer choices and face very difficult decisions.”