Big Enrollment Dip as Metro Parents Pull Kindergartners Out of Public Schools

If parents could grade Twin Cities public schools on their COVID-era teaching plans for kindergartners this fall, it’s safe to say teachers and administrators would recieve low marks indeed. The number of children whose parents have opted out of sending them to public schools has snowballed, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction in school districts’ insistence on distance learning, even for the very youngest students.

The seismic shift caught the attention of the Star Tribune.

Kindergarten enrollment has plunged across the Twin Cities metro, as families have sought alternatives to a first year of school spent at least partly in front of a computer screen during the pandemic.

Parents frustrated by online and hybrid lessons have opted for home schooling, private schools offering in-person instruction or even delaying the start of their children’s grade-school education altogether. Meanwhile, school leaders who are just beginning to share their official enrollment counts with school board members and the state Department of Education are scrambling to sort out where the missing kindergartners are, whether it’s likely they’ll be back next year — and how much of a financial hit districts are likely to suffer in the meantime since funding is linked to student counts.

Check out these numbers for districts throughout the metro area.

Enrollment is down overall this year, but the decline is particularly steep among kindergartners. In Bloomington and Inver Grove Heights, this year’s kindergarten enrollment is down 18% from the districts’ projections. Minneapolis and St. Louis Park kindergarten classes are each 16% below projected enrollment. In Brooklyn Center and Wayzata, kindergarten enrollment is down by at least 20%. Even in Prior Lake-Savage, the metro’s fastest-growing district in recent years, there’s been a nearly 7% drop, according to a recent survey by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

So where are all the youngsters going? It won’t be clear until the Minnesota Department of Education posts enrollment statistics in a few weeks. But clearly old fashioned in-person learning is in demand, meaning home schooling and private schools undoubtedly top the list of options.

But early reports from schools indicate that many families that want in-person instruction every day — and have the means to pay tuition — have moved to private schools, which are not subject to Gov. Tim Walz’s reopening directives and have largely fully reopened. At Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Wayzata, enrollment has soared at a rate most Catholic schools haven’t seen in decades. Last year’s kindergarten class had 32 students. This year, it’s up to 60, with more than 25 other kindergartners on a waiting list. The school’s overall enrollment is up 20%.

It’s anybody’s guess whether the trend sticks and results in a longer term abandonment of public schools by more families. But the stiff challenge to the education establishment’s monopoly on learning has to concern public school administrators and Education Minnesota.