by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
COVID-19 has had a serious impact on schools across the state. All but two public district schools in North Carolina saw enrollment decreases for the first month of the 2020-2021 school year compared to 2019-2020. JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops writes:
The median decrease in first-month average daily membership across all 113 remaining school districts was 4.69%. On the low end, Kannapolis City registered a paltry 1.2% decrease. On the high end, Guilford County had a massive 16.5% drop in enrollment. According to the Greensboro News & Record, “biggest drops in kindergarten enrollment for Guilford County Schools came from the most and least affluent schools.”
Enrollment losses are the most apparent in Kindergarten. Dr. Stoop’s writes:
Kindergarteners constituted a substantial share of the district enrollment loss. As Brian Gordon of USA Today Network points out, “The 13% decrease in kindergarten was the largest enrollment drop of any grade level. And while public school enrollment has plummeted across the board this year, with 62,000 fewer students, kindergarten accounts for nearly a quarter of the total decrease.”
Some suspect parents of these children to have put off entering their children in school for a year, AKA “redshirting.” Stoops explains:
North Carolina’s compulsory attendance law does not mandate school enrollment until the child turns seven years old. This allows parents to delay or “redshirt” the initial registration of their child in public school. Because the available enrollment report simply tabulates the average daily membership for each public school in the state, we simply do not know how widespread redshirting was this year.
Another explanation for this enrollment decline is a shift to schools of choice – charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, etc. However, it is not possible to know the current extent of this trend. Dr. Stoops writes:
The first-month enrollment report shows that kindergarten enrollment in charter increased by 7% or nearly 700 students compared with last year, so some of the district loss was charters’ gain. Home and private schools may have enjoyed similar increases, but enrollment figures for nonpublic schools will not be available until the end of the fiscal year, so it is impossible to know for sure.