By Ted O’Neil | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) – Mirroring the rest of the nation, public school enrollment in Louisiana has fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic, but schools in the state still will receive millions of additional dollars in funding.
Nearly 700,000 students were enrolled in Louisiana’s public schools for the 2020-2021 academic year, some 17,000 students fewer than the 2019-2020 school year.
The state’s 1,300 public schools across 70 school districts, however, will receive $19 million more in funding for the upcoming school year.
The Louisiana House and Senate approved a $3.9 billion K-12 education budget last month that takes effect Thursday. The increase will mean an $800 raise for teachers and an additional $400 for support staff.
Under state law, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education establishes the Minimum Foundation Program, which sets per-pupil funding. Lawmakers can either approve or deny the budget, but cannot alter it, and no action by the governor is needed.
Louisiana public schools also received $287 million in federal aid.
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told the board the enrollment decline was because of the pandemic and an active hurricane season last summer and fall.
“We are working with systems as they engage families and collect updated enrollment information,” he told the board. “I’m confident more families will return to our public schools when all systems safely resume face-to-face instruction.”
Nearly half of Louisiana’s enrollment decline came at the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten levels. Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed into law mandatory kindergarten in the state, starting with the 2022-2023 school year.
Statistics released this week show the number of students attending public schools during the 2020-2021 academic year in the U.S. fell by roughly 3% compared with the previous school year.
The data came from the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency that analyzes education figures.
The 3% drop represents some 1.5 million students, according to the preliminary report. A final report will not be available until next spring, according to the NCES. Figures come from reports generated by state departments of education.
There were 51.1 million students enrolled in conventional and public charter schools during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Even more stark is the drop in enrollment among younger students. Preschool enrollment fell by 22%, and preschool and kindergarten enrollment combined dropped 13%.
By contrast, high school enrollment fell by 0.4%.
A statement released with the data by Ross Santy, associate commissioner for the NCES, noted how rare it is for public schools to lose students.
“K-12 enrollment in our nation’s public schools has been increasing almost every year since the start of this century,” he said. “Before this year, in the few recent years where we have seen enrollment decreases, they have been small changes representing less than 1 percent of total enrollment.”
Some 29 states experienced enrollment declines of between 1% and 3%. The District of Columbia, Utah, South Dakota, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa experienced decreases of less than 1%.
Vermont, Mississippi and Puerto Rico had enrollment fall by more than 5%. Washington, New Mexico, Michigan, Kentucky and Maine lost between 4% and 5% of enrollment.