Across Colorado, student enrollment remains lower than one would normally expect, a trend that began with a dramatic drop in public school enrollment in 2020 when the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal life, especially education.
Recently released statewide enrollment data suggests that some of the tens of thousands of missing students have returned, but in the younger grades, thousands are still missing from classrooms.
Colorado Department of Education statistics distributed Wednesday for the current school year show that more than 35,000 students have disappeared from public school enrollment. The largest declines occurred in the younger grades.
Figures suggest around half of missing pupils have not returned, with at least 10,000 younger pupils still missing from lists and the biggest rebound in older grades.
It’s still unclear where the “lost” students went, said Becky Allan, financial director for the Academy’s School District 20. Parents do not always notify districts that they have decided to homeschool their children or move, she said, and neither preschool nor kindergarten is required for students in Colorado.
“If we went back 12 months, we were scared of what the future held – we didn’t know if we would ever find these students again, if they had completely disappeared and we would lose them forever,” said D-20 spokeswoman Allison Cortez. “Seeing our numbers rebound gives us a great sense of hope.”
Colorado’s largest public school districts are bucking the statewide trend that shows a slight rebound in enrollment from last school year‘s striking enrollment losses.
A total of 886,517 K-12 students were enrolled statewide in October, an increase of 3,318 students, or 0.4%, from 2020, according to annual October enrollment. .
Denver Public Schools, the largest in the state, lost another 172 students for an enrollment rate of 88,889 this school year, the data shows. Last year, Denver public school enrollment fell by 3,051 students, from the 2019-20 record of 92,112 students.
However, over the past 10 years, Denver County 1 has grown nearly 10%, or about 8,000 more students than in 2011.
Enrollment in Jefferson County R-1, the state’s second-largest district, fell this year by 1,615 students to a total enrollment of 78,473. In 2020-2021, enrollment decreased by 3,960 students compared to 2019-2020. District enrollment has been declining since 2016.
Douglas County RE-1, the third largest in the state, saw an increase of 897 students this year, after losing 4,326 students last year, compared to 2019’s pre-pandemic number.
This year’s total enrollment remains well below the 2019 record of 913,223 students statewide, officials said.
Preschool students made up the biggest increase in grades in 2021-22, adding 4,478 more students than in 2020-21. Kindergarten also had 3,868 more students this year.
Those two classes saw the biggest declines last year, losing 8,009 preschoolers and 5,800 fewer kindergartners.
Half of the 14 grades counted show declines this school year, with colleges hit the hardest. The sixth grade reflected the largest statewide declines, with 2,399 fewer students, and the seventh grade had 1,937 fewer students from 2020.
Hispanic students posted the largest gain among ethnicities and races, with 4,357 more students for a total of 306,215.
As was the case last year, white students continued to struggle, posting the largest drop of 3,106 fewer students statewide to a total of 460,186.
A third fewer homeschooled students were counted in 2021 compared to fall 2020 – 10,502 in 2021 compared to 15,773 in 2020 – a drop of 33.4%. However, this year’s home school population is still higher than 2019’s total of 7,880.