Remote learning support sites have been set up across Larimer County to help Poudre School District students who most need academic and other support.
Statewide K-12 enrollment has dropped in Colorado for 2020-21, raising concerns about students’ academic success, social and mental well-being, and districts’ funding as the annual October “count day” approaches.
Poudre School District enrollment for the 2020-21 school year dropped by about 3%, or 863 students, preliminary data shows, district Planning Manager Brendan Willits told the Board of Education last week.
The preliminary enrollment numbers were updated as of Sept. 18, and enrollment tends to drop by 100 to 250 students from preliminary numbers to October “count day” — which is this Thursday — Willits said.
October “count day” for Colorado public schools is the day every district takes an official headcount of students actively enrolled in schools and submits that number to the state. The state bases funding off of the enrollment numbers off that count.
Official enrollment numbers from the October count will not be released until January 2021, district IT Applications Support Data Coordinator Betsy Westberry told the board last week.
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Total enrollment in the district as of mid-September was 26,428, compared with 27,291 students enrolled in the district as of the October count in 2019, Willits said.
Elementary school enrollment, kindergarten in particular, saw the largest drop, Willits said. Elementary school enrollment is down by 1,245 students year-over-year, and kindergarten enrollment is down by about 300 — a trend Willits said is being seen statewide.
“(Kindergarten) is really being hit hard from every district I’ve talked to,” Willits told the board. “That’s going to be felt for a couple years as it creates a bubble, as we presume a majority of those students will come back heavy in first grade and some will choose to stay back in K.”
The district has seen an enrollment increase in the high schools, another trend other districts are seeing, Willits said. High school enrollment is up by about 800 students this year compared with last, but it’s unclear why.
District Budget Director Brett Parsons told the board last week his initial analysis on potential funding impacts from the enrollment drop showed about a $3 million state revenue decrease but he’d have a more accurate estimate during the next board meeting Oct. 13.
“Even though the (budget) forecast is better than what we talked about in June, being better than bad doesn’t make it good,” Parsons said.
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Where did the students go?
According to preliminary data, about 2,215 students withdrew from the distinct this year, a significant increase over past years, Westberry said. Early data shows a significant increase in two withdrawal categories: transferring to a nonpublic school and withdrawing to be homeschooled.
This year, the district received notice that 460 students withdrew to be homeschooled, up from 48 in the 2019-20, Westberry said last week. As of mid-September, 350 students withdrew from PSD to transfer to a nonpublic school, up from 102 last year.
The withdrawals to attend nonpublic schools do not include students who transferred from a PSD public school to a district charter school, Westberry said.
The highest withdrawals were from the elementary level, with 1,170 so far this year.
‘We really worry about those lost kids’
In a Tuesday news conference, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the statewide enrollment drop “concerns me greatly” and encouraged families to keep their students enrolled in school and not “sit out the school year.”
Polis encouraged families to enroll their students in a virtual program if they aren’t comfortable sending their children to school in person. Poudre School District’s 100% online K-12 school, PSD Virtual, has more than 2,500 students enrolled — which greatly exceeded the district’s initial enrollment estimate of about 900 students.
Research shows learning loss is greater for younger students when they miss school, Polis said, which is where the largest enrollment drops are statewide.
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“Your kids will return to school someday, post-pandemic, and you don’t want them to be a year or two behind,” Polis said.
Students not enrolled in school miss out on social interactions and support, which even virtual learning environments can provide, Polis said.
“We really worry about those lost kids,” Polis said.
School provides structure, community and support many children, especially young children, crave, Medical Director for Child and Adolescent Services at the Medical Center of Aurora Chris Rodgers said during Tuesday’s news conference.
“One of the biggest stressors we hear again and again from the kids in our hospital is a total sense of isolation,” Rodgers said. “Without being involved in school, kids are left to feel further alone when this connection to their community could literally save them.”
Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes said teachers statewide are working to keep students engaged in remote learning. Not only is that important for their academic success, but also to make sure students are still getting the resources they need from their schools that they traditionally got in person, like meals and mental health services, Anthes said.
“We cannot let our children’s education become a casualty of this pandemic,” Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes said.
Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.
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