School districts in Wisconsin may see lower funding due to declining summer school enrollment early in the COVID-19 pandemic that in many cases has not fully recovered. That’s according to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report released Wednesday.
The report found that summer school enrollment tended to increase in the decade before the pandemic, peaking at 19,905 full-time equivalent, or FTE, students in 2019. Districts report summer school enrollment summer in terms of full-time students, so students in half day programs would count as half of a full-time student.
Enrollment in 2020 fell more than 57% to 8,506 FTE students. While the 2021 figures fell back to 17,569 FTE students, this still represents less than 90% of the 2019 peak enrollment.
“While the increase from the summer 2020 low is encouraging, the continued enrollment shortfall raises concerns, particularly given evidence that student needs and academic gaps have increased during the pandemic, reinforcing the potential value of the summer school as an intervention,” the report read.
Green Bay District Superintendent Stephen Murley said summer school “has never been more important.”
“Given the challenges we have faced with the pandemic with online learning and blended learning, there is no more important time to give students the opportunity to improve their academic skills than school. summer right now,” Murley said.
Although school enrollment numbers are used to determine how much money schools can raise through a combination of state aid and property taxes, these income limits are based on a “rolling” average over three years of September enrollment and 40% of full-time summer. registration. This means that the averages used next school year will reflect two years of pandemic enrollment, alongside a pre-pandemic school year.
Janell Decker is the assistant academic director of the Racine Unified School District. She said while declining enrollment in 2020 has hurt, the district is looking to the future.
“We are always looking to increase enrollment and give everyone the opportunity to come and experience one of our academic options or enrichment options,” Decker said.
Some districts have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact on programs more than others. The report found that among the 13 largest school districts in the state, enrollment declines in 2020 compared to 2019 ranged from about 33% in Kenosha to up to 75% FTE student loss in Appleton. .
The Eau Claire district saw a drop of more than 74%. Executive director of teaching and learning Jim Schmitt said the pandemic played a big part in that.
“People ended up that spring, and they were really not looking for more opportunities online, they were looking for more things where people could be engaged in person,” Schmitt said. “Obviously things weren’t allowing that to happen.”
The 2021 results were even more variable. Milwaukee, for example, lost a few more FTE students, while other districts recovered, but not quite at the state average rate.
Schmitt said Eau Claire’s increase last year was dramatic enough that the district almost couldn’t handle it.
“We had a lot of people who were really tired of the teaching year through the pandemic, right up to (the) 2020-21 school year,” Schmitt said. “At the same time, we had this strong desire for families to engage in summer programming, which was just wonderful.”
Green Bay schools saw an even bigger increase. According to the report, while the district suffered a more than 35% decline in enrollment between 2019 and 2020, the district managed to nearly double its enrollment levels in 2019 last year, reaching 908 FTE students.
Murley noted that about 7,000 students are enrolled in district programs in 2021. He said that’s a “great return on investment” for schools and for students.
“It’s really a double win,” Murley said. “Not only are they not slipping, but they are improving, so they leave last school year, and they enter the next school year ahead of where they were last year, instead of behind. where they were last year.”
Decker said engagement is another benefit of summer school.
“It really helps them continue to practice those communication skills or those social-emotional skills and strengthen or even extend their academic skills over the summer,” Decker said.
Murley said remediation and learning are only part of the equation.
“They may have done very intensive reading, writing and math in the morning, but the idea was to make sure they had fun in the afternoon while they were learning,” Murley said. .
The Green Bay District offered full-day programs and worked with community partners to make summer school more accessible to parents.
“If you do it right and involve children, parents and community partners in the planning process, you can create a model that works better for families in the community, while providing the school start you need. to prepare the kids for the next year,” Murley said. “It’s really a balancing act.”
Decker said the Racine District “really listened to the community” in developing its summer school plans.
The report notes that summer school may not be a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Notably, the extra time it provides is not in itself a silver bullet,” the report said. “(T)he most effective voluntary summer programs offer high-quality instruction in a positive climate and emphasize consistent attendance.”
Murley said his district is trying to prove the value of summer school to lawmakers. Federal relief dollars helped pay for the Green Bay program last year, but Murley says it’s unclear if the district will be able to sustain the expanded programs long term.
Decker said Racine may not be able to provide services such as prepackaged lunches that were available during the pandemic.
“I understand that things kind of have to, you know, go back to normal or pre-COVID, but hopefully there’s more thought about it, and our new normal is a little bit different” , Decker said.
In the meantime, registrations at Eau Claire and elsewhere are already underway for the next session of the summer school.
“We’re seeing some really, really good numbers,” Schmitt said. “Families want their children to participate in meaningful activities during the summer.”