COVID-19 Policies Wrecked Public School Enrollment and Student Outcomes

The kids never came back to big-city public schools, and now districts face budgetary "Armageddon."


After the historic one-year enrollment drop of 2.5 percent in the 2020-21 school year, public K-12 attendance has stubbornly refused to bounce back. Two new studies further indicate that the biggest two-year declines correlate strongly with the most restrictionist school-opening policies, particularly in Democratic-controlled big cities.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a report Wednesday showing that nationwide enrollment in government-run public schools in the 46 states under review declined an additional 0.2 percent in 2021-22, but with a measurable split at the extreme ends of pandemic-related school policies. The most remote school districts lost an additional 1.2 percent enrollment on average in 2021-22, contributing to a two-year decline of 4.4 percent; while the most open districts rebounded by 0.9 percent this year and have lost just 1.1 percent overall since COVID-19 hit.

The divergence in pandemic school policies has never correlated with comparative rates of campus spread, but rather with the comparative concentration of Democratic voters and locally powerful teachers unions. These factors, along with high costs of living and historically low rates of immigration, have combined to make the past two years an enrollment wipeout in the biggest cities.

New York City, the largest district in the nation, has lost a staggering 9.5 percent of students since the onset of COVID-19. Los Angeles Unified, the second largest, where unions have had particular success in getting most every restriction and compensation they wanted, saw the student body shrink by 8.1 percent. School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, in an article earlier this month at The 74 Million, described the confluence of the enrollment drop and the drying out of the nearly $200 billion in emergency federal COVID relief funds to K-12 schools as potentially "Armageddon."

Unless the long-term trend of Angelenos fleeing the public school system somehow reverses, Carvalho warned, "It's going to be a hurricane of massive proportions."

The only two of the country's top 10 school districts that haven't lost population since the pandemic hit are both in Florida (Orange and Hillsborough counties), where Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered schools open by edict in the fall of 2020. Of the 46 states in AEI's study, only four added students to their public schools: The heavily Republican South Dakota, Utah, North Dakota, and Idaho. The six states that lost between 0 percent and 1 percent during that time, including Florida and Texas, are also GOP strongholds.

"How schools operated affected family decisions," AEI Education Policy Studies Deputy Director Nat Malkus told the Washington Post.

The school tracking service Burbio earlier this month released a study of 2021-22 enrollment trends in 40 states, breaking out data among the four main geographic designations used by the National Center for Education Statistics: Rural, Town, Suburban, and City. Notably, only the "city" category saw a decline this year:


"The effects of the sharp, recent enrollment declines may be long-lived," Stanford University Education Professor Thomas Dee told The 74 Million. "The fiscal consequences will remain for some while."

K-12 spending amounts to around 20 percent of all state and local government spending. If the customer base for this freely offered product continues to reject it in favor of more expensive options, not only will education budgets (which are usually tied to enrollment numbers) get slashed, the political enthusiasm for paying the price tag via taxation will likely wither.

America was a global outlier in the amount of closures and restrictions imposed on public schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in particular played a key institutional role in mixing messages and producing senseless over-caution. Remote learning didn't just repel students, it consigned the ones who remained to staggering amounts of learning loss. We do not yet understand the full extent of the hit, but what public education decision makers did to public schools the past two years will likely go down as one of the most flagrant and impactful acts of institutional self-harm in the 21st century.

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  1. Public schools might not be perfect, but we left-libertarians want as many children as possible attending them. Because the alternative is worse: some private schools are so hateful that they don't even expose kindergarteners to nonbinary pronouns or critical race theory.


    1. OBL, you can shorten your hashtag by reusing one from the sixties:
      "Anarchists Unite!"

    2. The only thing worse than "don't say gay" is "don't say they"

      1. Or the Willie Mays Hayes bill - 'Don't say Hey'

        Could also be called the Mays/Mays-Hayes bill

        1. A ban on truck scale at border crossings "Don't say weigh"

          1. Trudeau's emergency actions against truckers...

            "Don't stay, eh"

            1. I believe in Freedom of movement except when it comes to Mormons. We need to round you groomers up and put ya back in Utah and build a wall and cap it. First non Mormons would be allowed to leave.

              I don’t give a fuck what y’all do in there.

              That is much, much better than you deserve.

              1. "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Acts 10:34-35

                You do not believe in freedom of movement.

            2. Geese hardest hit by mean honks.

    3. if i were raising kids now there is no way i'd send them to goverment schools. no way. there are other options that are way better. even 25 years ago when my children started their education i refused the government schools and they weren't as bad as they are today. i'd eat beans & rice every day to avoid the government schools.

  2. Funny thing; when democrats "show their work", the public grades them "F".

    1. The dog ate my immigration policy!

      1. Yeah the big takeaway here should be that when you just let illegal immigrants walk across the border they don't have the proper paperwork to register their kids in public school.

        So we should stop registering and identifying school children. Anyone should be able to walk into the building and get an education.

  3. But who could have seen this coming?!?!?!?

    1. Mr. Magoo?

    2. Stevie wonder

      1. I heard that guy's not even blind.

        1. Truther

    3. Helen Keller AND Ann Sullivan?

    4. The Simpsons?

    5. It's transitory.

      Also caused by Putin.

    6. Ray Charles is my spotter.

  4. I would call this an improvement. More parents woke up.

  5. Hmmm, you know this might explain why what math books Florida chooses is suddenly so important. School book manufactur's tailor their products to their biggest customers. If it looks like blue districts are losing students, then there may be long term concerns that books will start being tailored to Florida's voters tastes instead of say New Jerseys. Well that and the worst thing that can happen for CRT education is to have non-crt education to compare it against.

    1. And what was wrong with the math books we used? Scores have dropped while new books were written to include Common Core, CRT and all sorts of new ideas. Math, Reading, Writing... get back to the basics. Parents are pulling kids because the product is crap.

      1. Kid is in third grade for a charter school using Saxon math and already getting into pre algebra concepts.

        1. I learned using Saxon math. It's a fantastic math book.

  6. NO fucking tears for the public school institution. burn it to the fucking ground i mean it.

  7. The stated goal of public schools is to create activists, not to educate children. The pandemic has only served to highlight that

    1. I wouldnt even say "activists" I'd say "useful idiots for the woke communist cause"

      1. Right, despots hate activists, even their supporters.

        1. Well, they hate them once they gain power, but they're useful while they are attempting to take power.

    2. You forgot "employ teachers" as well. Because clearly the kids don't matter if we go by the national teachers unions demands.

  8. my screen is missing what should be a 28-point bold "YAY!" in the headline

  9. All those kids died from covid so of course they won't come back.

    1. And yet Lou Reed is still around, churning out the hits. I'm starting to get suspicious.

  10. COVID-19 Policies Wrecked Public School Enrollment and Student Outcomes

    Feature, not bug.

  11. Think public schools care about the education of your kids? Consider this. The data is in and public school children fell way behind in the last 2 years. Yet I don't know of ONE public school district that has a recovery plan to make up that lost ground. If you care about the children, how can this be???

    1. levies to get more taxes to get tech that will help. that seems to be the solution here.

    2. Offer them some money to come up with a plan. They'll do it. Poorly.

    3. "...Yet I don't know of ONE public school district that has a recovery plan to make up that lost ground..."

      In SF, the school board spent their time debating which school names should be changed for reasons. And the VP of the school board was so concerned about the failure of the schools to educate the kids, she went full racist:
      "SF School Board Member Accused Asians of Using ‘White Supremacy’ to ‘Get Ahead’"
      "Alison Collins, who serves as vice president on the school board, published a long Twitter thread in December 2016 in which she explained her intention “to combat anti-black racism in the Asian community at at [sic] my daughters’ mostly Asian Am[erican] school.”
      Collins accused “many Asian American Ts, Ss, and Ps” — teachers, students, and parents — of promoting “the ‘model minority’ BS” and of using “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead.’”
      “I even see it in my FB timeline with former HS peers. Their TLs are full of White and Asian ppl. No recognition #BlackLivesMatter exists,” she stated, before describing how her daughter had experienced Asian-American boys teasing a Latino classmate. “She spoke up when none of the other staff did,” Collins recalled. “The after school counselor was Asian. :/”..."

      She's since been tossed out the door on her ass; recalls can work.

  12. Except private schools are often turning out to be more woke than the public ones.

    1. They have competition; don't like what your kid's being handed? Move 'em to another school.
      Can't do that with government schools.

  13. NFG. Just about all the public schools in my state are poor. Anyone who can afford it sends their kids to religious/private schools or homeschools them. I no longer vote for any school bond/tax proposals, just don't see the money going for the kids' education, but rather for administrators and their bullshit.

    1. in my entire life i've never voted yes for any school bond measure. not necessarily because of the quality of the schools, but because every school district in the country wastes half of the money they get. when they whine and cry for more money i call bs. they need to better manage the money they have.

  14. I wish the enrollment decline would cause budgetary armageddon, but I doubt it. Even if funds are distributed based on enrollment or attendance, those rates will just be adjusted to make sure the government schools don't see any funding decline. And the property taxes certainly won't be going down due to the lower number of students.

  15. At least Welsh is now admitting the government policies are the cause of the disaster rather than blaming it on the wuflu.

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