Va. Public School Enrollment Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Enrollment at Virginia’s public schools has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to state data.

Last year, 44,000 students left the state’s public schools, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Even after the state mandated reopening schools for five days a week, the number of students lagged by 46,000 students this year, compared to 2019.

Henrico’s enrollment dropped below 50,000 students for the first time in more than a decade at 49,991 students. The district said it lost 1,400 students last year and saw a 118% increase in the number of students who left to attend private school.

Much of the loss is in early grade levels. About 80,000 kindergartners enrolled last school year, nearly 12,000 fewer than the previous school year. This year, kindergarten enrollment grew to around 87,000, which is an increase, but not a return to pre-pandemic levels.

“There are a lot of possible explanations for an enrollment decline. It’s not just parents angry with the public schools over how they handled schooling during the pandemic,” said Jon Becker, an associate professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The enrollment loss could affect how much the legislature's willing to offer in local budgets, unless it holds school districts harmless for enrollment loss like last year.