Eleanor Jones started homeschooling her learning-disabled son in the fall of 2020 when Maryland’s public schools were virtual — and she’s had no desire to send him back since they’ve reopened.
Her son, now 10, was born suffering from severe hearing loss. This is due to an inner ear condition. He uses cochlear implants for hearing, has a processing disorder, and can read lips to understand other people at his Westminster home, which is 36 miles northwest from Baltimore.
“He didn’t handle masks well,” Ms. Jones said Friday. “We decided to continue homeschooling this year as things still don’t seem to be completely settled regarding COVID mandates, particularly in school settings.”
Ms. Jones was one of millions of parents who pulled their children from K-12 public schools in order to avoid hybrid learning and mandates during the pandemic. Their numbers are increasing even as the pandemic fades.
While dissatisfaction with public education is driving enrollment booms in private schools and homeschooling groups, falling birth rates are driving down public school enrollment.
The Oregon Department of Education reports public school enrollment dropped from 582,661 in 2019-2020 to 550,020 in April — and it’s on track to drop again this month.
“I think parents have realized the public education system does not fit many children’s needs,” said MacKensey Pulliam, president of the school choice advocacy group Oregon Moms United.
Washington state homeschooling groups have seen record growth while public schools are in decline.
According to Seattle Public Schools’ data, enrollment has dropped annually from 53.630 students in 2019-2020 down to a projected 49.550 this year. The district predicts that enrollment will decline to 46,910 students by the 2025-2026 school years.
Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reports, state-wide, that homeschooling students have increased from 20,844 children in Oct 2019, to 32.056 in Oct 2021.
Washington Homeschool Organization, an organization of parents volunteering their time, believes that the actual number may be higher.
“There are many families in Washington engaging in non-legal ‘pod schools’ and ‘micro-schools,’” said Jen Garrison Stuber, the organization’s advocacy chair.
Catholic schools also see record growth as K-12 students return in class this month.
According to the National Catholic Educational Association, enrollment in U.S. Catholic Schools increased by 62,000 between 2020-21 and reached 1.68 million students in 2017. This was the largest increase in enrollment in 50 years.
The Diocese of Venice in Florida reports that Catholic school enrollments have increased by 26% from 4,400 students in 2020-2021, to 5,900 students this month. The Diocese of Venice operates 15 schools in five Southwest Florida counties.
“For the last two years, we were open and in-person, never closing a school or a classroom. Families have also responded to our rigorous curriculum and faith-based education,” said the Rev. John Belmonte, the diocese’s superintendent of Catholic schools.
Burbio, an online school monitoring site, reported last year that New York had experienced the largest drop in enrollment, with more than 48,000 students dropping between 2020-2021.
Experts say many parents relocated from large urban centers like New York City to lockdown-light Florida during the pandemic — and they’re not moving back.
“Some of the decline, particularly in large cities, was probably related to parents seeking better options during the years of COVID school closures,” said Ray Domanico, former director of education research at New York City’s Independent Budget Office and current senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Some changed states, others switched to charter or private schools.”
As they reopen this month, public schools are also grappling with a youth mental-health crisis, a national teacher shortage, a parental backlash against “woke” curriculum and fears of mass shootings.
In an annual poll released earlier this month, Gallup found that 42% of U.S. adults say they are satisfied with the quality of the nation’s K-12 education, a two-decade low and the second-lowest reading in 23 years. In August 2019, 51% of Americans expressed satisfaction, a near-record number before the pandemic.
The enrollment of K-3 students is declining as a result of growing dissatisfaction with public education.
In July, the D.C. Policy Center reported that enrollment growth in Washington, D.C. public schools and public charter schools had “stagnated” in general and “even declined” among lower grades after years of steady increases.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Times, a spokesperson for the National Education Association cited the nation’s shrinking population of young people as a factor in the decline.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, birthrate in the United States has fallen steadily since 2008. The rate dropped even faster during COVID and then rebounded slightly in March 2021.
“The consistently shrinking U.S. birth and immigration rates over the last decade are critical and persistent factors affecting school enrollment,” the NEA said.
Burbio reports public school enrollment is falling steadily in cities like Los Angeles that have seen declining numbers of young people — but the website says it’s also falling in wealthy and growing areas like Virginia’s Fairfax County Schools.
“These are school districts that remained closed much longer than most other systems,” said Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for education studies at the conservative Family Research Council. “No surprise, then, that parents vote with their feet and leave the system when pleading with school boards to reopen schools in these locations didn’t work.”