Minnesota public school enrollment drops again

The number of students enrolled in Minnesota public schools for the 2021-2022 school year has dropped again, while online school, charter school and private school enrollment continues to increase, according to the Minnesota Department of Education’s annual data report.

The decline is not as steep as it was during 2020, but this marks the second consecutive year the state’s school system has lost thousands of students. Kindergarten enrollment experienced some growth — 5.2 percent — but is still lower than it was pre-COVID, having declined nine percent in 2020. Private school enrollment increased around eight percent, particularly in the elementary grades.

“That suggests many families who signed up for private schools during the pandemic aren’t returning to publicly funded classrooms,” reported the Star Tribune.

Frustration over school districts’ distance learning, mask mandates, and curricula concerns contributed to families looking elsewhere during the 2020 school year and have likely played into the enrollment declines for this year as well.

“It seems like the families that have come [to private schools] found the academic rigor they would like, and they found community in these schools,” Tim Benz, president of Minndependent, told the Star Tribune.

“I think that families have realized that there are a lot of options for students,” Minnesota Association of School Administrators Executive Director Deb Henton told the Pioneer Press.

Henton expects the pandemic enrollment trends will hold for the next decade or so.

“The conditions we’ve lived through through the pandemic have changed life for many people,” she said.

Declines in Twin Cities nothing new

For Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts, their pre-COVID enrollment declines appear to have accelerated, according to the Pioneer Press.

Minneapolis Public Schools has lost 12.7 percent of its students from 2019, and St. Paul Public Schools is down 6.7 percent. The districts have long struggled to help students grow academically and have also had safety concerns that drove many families out before the coronavirus hit.

Teachers’ unions in both districts have authorized a strike for March 8 if more spending isn’t negotiated into the new two-year collective bargaining agreements.