Federal Data Reveals K-12 Enrollment Remains Stable but Below Pre-COVID Levels

According to newly released federal data, enrollment in U.S. schools was relatively stable from 2021 to 2022, but the number of K-12 students remained lower than pre-pandemic levels.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment was still 2% lower than 2019 figures, with nearly 50 million students. Only Idaho and North Dakota experienced a 2% increase in enrollment during this time period, while states like California, Mississippi, and New York saw declines of at least 5%.

The data confirms earlier state-level findings and research that indicate a loss of students from traditional school districts and a shift towards private schools, homeschooling, and alternative models such as microschools and hybrid programs. These trends, along with pre-existing declines in the number of school-age children, suggest that most districts should not expect enrollment growth in the near future, and many have already announced school closures.

“This national demographic decline has significant implications for whether schools can expect enrollment to bounce back,” said Thomas Dee, an economist at Stanford University who tracks pandemic-era enrollment data. As the American population ages, he added, “We are witnessing its effects on schools – long-term enrollment losses and the corresponding pressure to close schools and lay off staff.”

In December, the NCES released data that showed a slight increase in private school enrollment during the same time period when public schools experienced their largest declines. Officials will release updated data on students attending private schools and those who are homeschooled later this year, although these figures may not provide a complete picture.

“We have reason to believe that the number of students being home-educated will increase, even though much home education may go unreported,” said Sofoklis Goulas, a researcher at the Brookings Institution who has analyzed enrollment data.

Despite relatively flat enrollment between 2021 and 2022, with less than a 1% increase, there was significant variation at the state level. Louisiana experienced the highest growth with a 5% increase, while several states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, and New York, saw declines of at least 4%.

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