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Public School Enrollment Drops 4% In 2020-21

School enrollment in Chautauqua County has seen its largest decrease over the past 10 years in 2020-21.

Overall enrollment in pre-kindergarten through 12th grades decreased 4.14% from 2019-20 to 2020-21 from 19,788 in 2019-20 to 18,968 in 2020-21. The average yearly enrollment decrease in Chautauqua County over the past 10 years is 1.12%. The last year Chautauqua County saw such a large drop in enrollment was 2015-16, when 399 fewer students enrolled in school.

The Empire Center for New York Policy notes that the decrease is being seen statewide. The state’s public schools are on track to experience the largest decline in enrollment since 1981, with 66,424 fewer K-12 students–a 2.6 percent drop–as compared to the 2019-20 school year.

“Though public school enrollment in New York has been gradually declining since 2011, the reduction in enrollment between this year and last marks a significant acceleration of that trend,” Empire Center fellow Ian Kingsbury noted.

The report, based on preliminary data released by the New York State Department of Education, shows the vast majority of enrollment losses from 2019-20 to 2020-21 occurred in kindergarten through sixth grades. Just over one quarter of the total enrollment drop statewide from this year to last is due to a decrease of 16,851 students in kindergarten. School districts in The Post-Journal’s readership area saw an even bigger drop in kindergarten enrollment (8.15%) than they did in overall enrollment. The biggest decreases in kindergarten enrollment were seen in Chautauqua Lake (-10), Clymer (-27), Dunkirk (-12), Forestville (-17), Frewsburg (-13), Pine Valley (-8), Silver Creek (-26), Southwestern (-20) and Westfield (-16).

The Empire Center report states that the kindergarten enrollment decline mirrors national trends, according to an NPR report from October that was cited by the Empire Center. The decline could be in part driven by concerns and feasibility surrounding young children learning virtually. as well as New York’s compulsory education law that does not mandate schooling for children younger than 6.

“Preliminary enrollment data indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures have accelerated recent trends in declining enrollment,” Kingsbury added. “While these numbers are historic, they likely fail to capture the true number of students to have functionally exited the New York public education system.”

Enrollment changes varied by county and region. Declines were most pronounced in the Southern Tier, where a 3.9 percent reduction in enrollment from the previous school year was .5 percentage points greater than the North Country, which experienced the second-largest decline in enrollment. Overall, enrollment losses were more significant upstate than downstate. The decline in The Post-Journal’s readership area was greater than the overall 2.7% seen in Western New York and was the eighth-biggest decrease in the state.

A U.S. Census Bureau report released Monday written by Casey Eggleston, a research mathematical statistician in the Census Bureau’s Center for Behavioral Science Measurement, and Jason Fields, senior researcher for Demographic Programs and the Survey of Income and Program Participation in the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division, backs the Empire Center’s analysis. In the first week (April 23-May 5, 2020) of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, about 5.4% of U.S. households with school-aged children reported homeschooling. The week of Sept. 30-Oct. 12, 2020, that number had increased to 11.1% nationally. In New York, home-schooling accounted for 1.2% of households in the spring sample and 10.1% in the fall sampling period, an increase of 9%. The Household Pulse Survey is designed to provide near-real-time information about the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American households.

“It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children,” the Census Bureau report states.

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