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Nearly 2 million students have left public schools since 2020: report

An empty classroom is seen at Hollywood High School on August 13, 2020, in Hollywood, California. | Getty Images/Rodin Eckenroth

Approximately 2 million students have left public schools since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns led to mandated school closures and students being educated online, according to a recently released report.

Education Next, a nonpartisan research organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced the findings of a report last week that looked into current trends in education.

According to the report, around 2 million fewer students are enrolled in non-charter public schools since spring 2020, when the United States enacted pandemic lockdowns.

Specifically, researchers found that, from 2020-2022, enrollment in public schools declined from 81% to 76.5%, charter school enrollment increased from 5% to 7.2%, private school enrollment increased from 8% to 9.7%, and homeschooling rose from 6% to 6.6%.

“Our polling data indicate that district-operated schools lost 4% of student enrollments to other types of schooling between 2020 and 2022,” said the researchers.

“If that percentage is accurate, it means that nearly 2 million students have shifted from traditional public schools to alternative school arrangements.”

Although appearing to be a significant drop in enrollment, the report did not consider the decline to be severe. Additionally, the researchers found that, in November 2020, public school enrollment had dropped down to 72%, or 4.5 percentage points lower than it is at present.

“A wholesale mass exodus from traditional public schools has not occurred,” they stated. “And despite partisan differences in responses to [COVID-19], the parents of children in states both blue and red report less anxiety about their children’s academic and social progress than was the case two years earlier.”

Data for the report was based on a poll conducted May 2-30 by Ipsos Public Affairs with a total sample of 3,641 respondents, which included 1,857 respondents who had “at least one child living in the respondent’s household who is in a grade from kindergarten through 12th.”

Recently, debates surrounding lockdown measures and controversial curriculum content have led many parents to take their children out of public schools and choose alternatives like homeschooling or private education.

In September of last year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report showing that around 1.4 million children had been taken out of public schools, based on an analysis of the school districts of 41 states and the District of Columbia.

Additionally, the NAPCS reported that approximately 240,000 students were newly enrolled in public charter schools, representing a 7% increase compared to 2020.

“It is premature to draw any conclusions about why charter school enrollment grew while enrollment in district public schools declined. And yet the pattern among states in this report is undeniable,” noted the NAPCS report.  

“There is much to learn from families who made the switch, and perhaps the biggest lesson for everyone is how critically important charter schools are to public education.”

Earlier this year, the National Catholic Educational Association reported a slight increase in Catholic school enrollment for the 2021-2022 academic year compared to the 2020-2021 academic year.

“Enrollment at all types of schools — public, charter and private — were impacted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic schools had a decline in enrollment of 6.4% from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021,” stated the NCEA.

“Catholic schools’ dedication in safely opening classrooms and supporting their communities’ needs last year is demonstrated in the 3.8% increase in enrollment.”

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