Enrollment in public school districts dropped 3 percent from September 2019 to September 2020, compared to a 0.4 percent drop in the previous 12-month period.
School enrollment in Wisconsin, and in other parts of the country, has been on the decline since the late 1990s, when the children of baby boomers — who themselves drove record enrollment numbers — were in their peak schooling years. However, amid uncertainty and near-constant changes in plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools around the country have been seeing larger enrollment drops, especially in 4K and kindergarten classes.The 4K enrollment drop is particularly significant, as the introduction of 4K programs at more Wisconsin schools helped offset the decline in enrollment numbers for many school districts during the post-millennium decline. September 2020 numbers show a 15.8 percent decline in4K and preschool special education, as well as a 4.9 percent decline in kindergarten enrollment.
Because attendance is not legally required for4K and kindergarten, DPI School Financial Services Director Dan Bush noted the drop in enrollment for those two age groups could reflect more families choosing to keep kids home, possibly out of health or school safety concerns surrounding COVID-19.
The enrolment data indicates that a lot of parents are choosing to keep their kids home or just get them out of traditional public schools.
Independent charter schools saw an increase in enrollment, but a smaller one than previous years. Enrollment was up 1.6 percent in September 2020, compared to 2.8 percent the year before. Their 4K enrollment decreased by 16.7 percent, while kindergarten enrollment decreased by 0.1 percent. Grades 1 through 12 drove the increase, with enrollment growing 3.9 percent from the preceding year.
Wisconsin has four private school parental choice programs, which reported a 5.9 percent increase from September 2019 to September 2020, compared to 8.3 percent from 2018 to 2019. Enrollment increased by 2,577 students and 26 schools over last year. Like the independent charters, they saw a drop in 4K enrollment by 3.5 percent, though kindergarten enrollment increased by 5.1 percent. Grades 1-12 saw a 6.7 percent increase.