Virginia public school enrollment fails to rebound from pre-pandemic levels | Richmond Local News


By KENYA HUNTER Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia public schools have yet to rebound from pandemic-era enrollment losses, according to state data.

Last year, 44,000 students chose to leave Virginia public schools, many with parents who hoped to save the social and emotional health of their children, who they feared were at risk due to school closures. pandemic-related schools.

In March 2020, Governor Ralph Northam ordered schools closed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Then nearly a year later, he ordered students back to school, forcing local school districts to reopen.

Even with the state’s mandate to reopen state schools five days a week, student enrollment in the state trailed 46,000 students this year compared to 2019.

Kristy Bearfield, a Henrico County parent who enrolled her daughter, Zoey, in Henrico’s virtual program last year, said she had hoped to send her back to a school building. But when Henrico ran out of places for her reduced-capacity virtual academy and the virus continued to spread, she still didn’t feel comfortable sending Zoey to school in person.

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Although she still hopes to return, she has seen positive effects on her daughter’s education.

“I don’t think everyone is looking [home-school] be a permanent solution. I think there are a lot of people who just do it to get by and be safe, Bearfield said in an interview. She also said that with Zoey, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and has an individual education plan, Bearfield as a parent is more able to be accommodating.

“I don’t have to rely on teachers and helpers to provide her with what she needs. So that’s probably one of the main advantages.

Henrico saw its number drop below 50,000 students for the first time in more than a decade to 49,991 students. Last year, the district said it lost 1,400 students and saw a 118% increase in the number of students leaving the public school system to attend private school.

“Like most school divisions across the country, HCPS continues to see the impacts of COVID-19 reflected in student enrollment data,” said Eileen Cox, spokesperson for Henrico Schools. “We are encouraged, however, to see increases in kindergarten enrollment this school year. Kindergarten is essential because it is the basis for academic success; it is an opportunity for students to learn key academic concepts and develop social skills.

Many parents have also opted for private schools. At St. Mary’s Catholic School in Henrico, the school saw interest double and saw a 10% increase in enrollment, according to figures provided by the school.

Much of the loss of public school enrollment is in the early primary grades. In the 2020-21 school year, the first full school year of the pandemic, only about 80,000 kindergarten children were enrolled in school, nearly 12,000 fewer than in 2019-20. Now there are around 87,000 kindergarteners, which means the number is growing, but not back to pre-pandemic levels.

“I think it’s important to point out that a good percentage of the decline in enrollment happens in the early years,” said Jon Becker, associate professor of instructional leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University. “There are many possible explanations for a drop in enrollment. It’s not just parents who are angry with public schools for the way they’ve run the school during the pandemic. »

In the Richmond area, Chesterfield and Hanover counties rebounded from pre-pandemic listing. Chesterfield, which lost nearly 2,000 pupils in the 2020 school year – when all school systems in the region except Hanover started virtually – saw an increase of 2,000 pupils.

Hanover, which lost around 1,000 pupils at the start of the pandemic, saw an increase of around 300 pupils, from 16,519 pupils in 2020-21 to 16,865 pupils this school year. In the 2019-20 school year, the district had more than 17,000 students, according to state data. Hanover was the only school district in the Richmond area to have in-person school five days a week at the start of the 2021 school year.

The numbers for Richmond Public Schools are largely unclear. On paper, it looks like 7,000 students left RPS, dropping enrollment from 28,000 students to 21,000 students.

But the vast majority of that drop, Superintendent Jason Kamras said, is likely due to severing ties with Virginia Virtual Academy, a virtual school operated by K12 Inc., for which RPS served as fiscal agent. Virginia Virtual Academy is not the same as Virtual Virginia, a program run by the state Department of Education.

Virtual Academy data has never been broken down between students at physical facilities in the district and those at the academy, making it difficult to get a clear picture of Richmond’s enrollment from state data.

Now there are nearly 21,000 students in RPS, a more accurate count than the nearly 28,000 registered as enrolled in RPS last year. The district reported those numbers through Henry L. Marsh Elementary School and Richmond Alternative School. Last year, Henry L. Marsh reported having 3,537 students, a significant jump from 980 students in 2019-20. Now, without Virginia Virtual Academy numbers, there are 474 students enrolled in the school.

Loss of enrollment could have effects on what the state legislature is prepared to deliver in local budgets, unless the General Assembly holds school districts harmless for loss of enrollment as it does. did last year.

“It’s definitely helped school divisions this year,” Becker said. “But if resources are an issue, then it will be important for our school divisions to get that provision back again without a loss in funding.”


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