On Wednesday, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal released a Press release calling for an end to the mask mandate in public schools. It came out two days before a draft report was released showing public school enrollment in the state continues to decline below forecasts.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a statewide indoor mask mandate has been in place since August 23, 2021. In September, an outdoor mask mandate was put in place for events of 500 people or more.
“As part of the transition from pandemic to endemic, I believe it is safe and timely to eliminate the statewide masking requirement for students and allow officials to decide health facilities,” Reykdal said in the press release issued just before Gov. Jay Inslee’s virtual press conference announcing the end of the outdoor mask mandate on February 18. “I recommend that the governor and the Department of Health change the guidelines to reflect this in the coming weeks.”
As such, he went on to say, “Cases and hospitalizations are expected to drop significantly in the coming weeks, and this gives us an opportunity to review the pros and cons of our current mitigation strategies, including universal masking in schools.”
Masks or no masks, it looks like there will be fewer students in Washington public schools than expected.
On Friday, the Washington State Workload Forecasting Council (CFC) released its draft forecast report showing that K-12 enrollment continues to do worse than expected.
The 54-page report assumes a shift in enrollment trajectory and slower growth trends than before the pandemic, with public school enrollment expected to be below 2016 levels, according to page 2 of the report.
“As a reminder, the forecast assumes, beginning in November and continuing into February, a shift – that students who left K-12, most of them, won’t necessarily be returning,” explained CFC Senior Forecaster Paula Moore on a virtual same-day Meet of the CFC. “What we’re going to have, rather than a rebound, we’re going to have the traditional year-over-year growth patterns going forward. So we’re assuming around 0.6% growth for the year. This is based on the fact that we have seen students continue from last year to this school year.
Moore noted a large increase in homeschooling in 2021, which she apparently tried to explain.
“We have received additional data, and although home schooling has doubled in the last year, there are still 10,000 students above, approximately, and most of these students have been absorbed by private schools this year,” she said. “So this is above pandemic levels and private schools have increased this year. So that will probably be the trajectory to follow. »
Meanwhile, a month of December survey of 500 local voters conducted by the Washington Policy Center (WPC) showed 71% of respondents in favor of school choice.
Liv Finne, director of the WPC’s Center for Education, believes there is a link between Reykdal’s press release against the student mask mandate and anemic enrollment numbers.
“The drop in enrollment is of concern to Superintendent Reykdal,” she told The Center Square in an email. “School funding depends on enrollment, so Reykdal and the educational institution have a financial incentive to remove unpopular mandates like the mask mandate.”
She concluded:SB 5563 and HB 1590his companion bill, currently before the current legislature, would provide $644 million in additional funding to schools for this lost enrollment, to fund the students they no longer serve.