Enrollment in public schools is declining across the country


NEW YORK (CNN) – More parents are looking for alternatives to virtual learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is leading to declining public school enrollment nationwide.

Ryan and Elizabeth Newhart are grateful that three weeks ago their two youngest children could go to school in person five days a week.

“You absolutely take school for granted until your children are home and you are responsible for their education yourself,” said Elizabeth Newhart.

Ronan, 8, and Isla, 6, started the school year virtually at Oak Park Elementary School, a public school located just outside of Chicago.

Right away there were signs of trouble.

“They were having temper tantrums for their teachers, which would never have happened in person, and were really losing, losing control, said Elizabeth Newhart.

Balancing Zoom courses and their jobs – Ryan Newhart works in marketing, Elizabeth Newhart in human resources – was becoming equally untenable for the middle-class couple.

“Sometimes we can both be on a conference call and not have our full attention with the kids and also not be professionally trained teachers,” said Ryan Newhart.

After making drastic cuts to the family budget, they pulled Ronan and Isla out of Oak Park and enrolled them in St. Giles, a nearby Catholic school.

Virtual learning is less of a challenge for 15-year-old Liam, who remains in public school.

“We had to do a lot of math, didn’t we, and think a lot about how we were going to make this work, but we felt like it was something we had to do,” Elizabeth Newhart said.

They are not alone. A growing number of parents are seeking alternatives to virtual learning, leading to an alarming drop in public school enrollment nationwide.

“Right now people are in survival mode, from my personal perspective,” said Dennis Goodwin, superintendent of Murphy Elementary School District in Phoenix.

He said he understands why parents are taking the step.

“Going to a charter or other school that’s open to them, I respect and completely understand their situation,” Goodwin said.

This does not make his job easier. Having just pulled his district, one of Arizona’s poorest, out of bankruptcy, he now faces another crisis: an 8% drop in registrations this year.

“We know that some have opted for charters. We know that some have just left the region. But we can’t find them and we’re not alone with it, ”Goodwin said.

Fall enrollments in Chicago public schools are at their lowest in 20 years.

Massachusetts saw a drop of almost 4%. Public schools in Fairfax County in Virginia show that enrollment this school year is down nearly 5%.

Miami, Los Angeles, Charlotte and New York all report declines.

Income is based on student enrollment. Fewer students means less resources allocated to school districts.

“You still have to provide the same services you had before. He just had less money to be able to accomplish this, ”Goodwin said.

The long-term consequences of students and teachers being unable to get the resources they need due to budget cuts – “Well, the kids are falling behind,” Goodwin said.

The decrease in the number of students in public schools also contributes to a growing socio-economic divide.

Millions of families depend on schools for child care and meals, in addition to education.

“It makes it a lot harder when you lose students,” Goodwin said.

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