Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility
Close Alert

'Parents have choice:' Why public schools are seeing enrollment numbers drop

Desks inside Schoolfield Elementary School are spaced at least 3 feet apart this school year and plexiglass separates each student. (Credit: Daniel Crews/WSET)
Desks inside Schoolfield Elementary School are spaced at least 3 feet apart this school year and plexiglass separates each student. (Credit: Daniel Crews/WSET)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon

Dr. Bernice Cobbs, the superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools, said she hopes students make their way back, after data shows thousands left Virginia public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our doors are always open to all of our students," Dr. Cobbs said.

Franklin County Public Schools, like most division in Virginia, lost students from the Fall 2019 to Fall 2021. According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, Franklin County Public Schools saw an 8.2 percent drop, or 567 students.

SEE ALSO: Franklin County schools detail plans to incorporate community input on history guidelines

According to that data, 46,113 students left Virginia public schools from Fall 2019 to Fall 2021. There are 132 public school divisions in the Commonwealth, all but 21 lost students. The data shows Fairfax County saw a 5.4 percent drop with 10,295 students. Richmond City, a 16 percent drop with 4,033 students. Many rural schools are at the top of that list.

"I think if we go back to the onset of the pandemic, which was March 2020, what we found is that parents and guardians were interacting with their students at home because it first started off as virtual learning," Dr. Cobbs said. "Some parents realized, you know, this might be best for our family."

Dr. Cobbs and Franklin County Assistant Superintendent Sue Rogers said parents have more choices now. Rogers said the number of children homeschooling in the county doubled to about 1,000 students. They said many also enrolled in virtual learning through programs like Virtual Virginia through the Department of Education.

The concern for many of these districts is with that decrease in enrollment, a decrease in funding could come as well.

"We hope our legislators vote to continue the no-loss funding," Cobbs said.

Governor Ralph Northam proposed the "no-loss" plan in his budget. Through that, Cobbs and Rogers say even if their district has lost students, they would still get funds for them.

SEE ALSO: American Rescue Plan funds available to support Virginia private schools

"Even though we might have fewer students, we want to provide our students with the same opportunities," Cobbs said.

Rogers said if they don't get the no-loss funding again, it would be "horrible" for their district.

"We're talking about almost $2 million a year that we've received in no-loss funding this school year," Rogers said. "If you think we have 8 percent less students and we receive around $5,000 a student, you can do the math. We would have to cut something immediately to be able to respond."

"Yes, I know that there will be a day of reckoning, but the reality is you can't stop in one day," she said. "So when that money cuts off, there has to be a complete response. So I think the thought of the 'no-loss funding,' is for schools to be able to equalize over time. And we know that that's coming."

Not all districts are having to worry about this. 21 divisions saw an increase in students from Fall 2019 to Fall 2021. Radford City Public Schools enrolled 1,059 more students, a 64.5 percent increase. Giles County saw the largest increase in students in the Commonwealth with 1,137 more students, a 47.5 percent increase. Data shows Danville City's enrollment dropped by 197 students from 2019 to 2020. The district then gained 231 from 2020 to 2021.

Dr. Angela Hairston, the superintendent of Danville City Public Schools, says much of that is because they started their own virtual academy. She said about 800 students signed up. Because they started their own virtual academy, that number went toward the district's enrollment numbers, not another program's, like Virtual Virginia.

SEE ALSO: Academic report shows Lynchburg students falling behind in math, reading

"We anticipate these additional students will yield us about $1.5 million additional from the state level," Hairston said.

Hairston said the virtual academy brought in homeschool students, private school students and even some from outside of their district who now pay tuition.

She said they already had the tools to start the program.

"The recovery funds gave us dollars for laptops, hotspots, but the infrastructure was here within the city so that those hot spots had some connectivity," Dr. Hairston said. "I think we realized as an administrative team and a district that our parents were not going to return face-to-face for a lot of reasons and we really needed to accommodate our students if we wanted them in our system."

Hairston said not all districts, especially rural ones, have great internet connectivity.

"That is not always easy for counties that have rural spots," Hairston said.

Between that, and more families moving to cities, Rogers said rural school divisions are changing.

"We can keep doing business the way we are doing, but we have to remember that sometimes we need to think of parents as consumers. That's not the mindset that we had before," Rogers said. "We never thought of ourselves as having to market ourselves. We're a public education system. But we are realizing now that parents have choice and we need to make sure that in our programs, in what we set forth in our strategic planning, that we are filling those gaps, those needs."

Loading ...