The Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE) preliminary analysis of public-school enrollment for the 2020-21 school year shows a drop in kindergarteners and spike in homeschoolers have driven the statewide decline in enrollment this year.
As of September 30, 2020, 442,627 students had enrolled in Mississippi public schools. That’s a more than 23,000 drop from last September’s total of 465,913.
In August, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann shared his concerns. “We have children that are not going back to school and haven’t registered for distance learning,” said Hosemann. “I can’t tell you how much I worry about this.”
Hosemann said, “We’re not finding all of the kids coming back, or even registering, so I’m paying really close attention to that. Our parents, teachers, and schools are working hard on this, but we don’t want a gap year.”
With fewer students in the classroom, schools also stand the chance of falling behind in funding. Hosemann said, “Schools are paid on the average daily attendance, so however many kids you have is how much you get out of the formula.”
According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the following factors contributed to the decline:
- 4,345 fewer kindergartens enrolled in 2020-21, compared to the same time last year. Over the previous three years (2017-18 to 2019-20) kindergarten enrollment dropped by a cumulative total of 1,015 students.
- Homeschool enrollment increased from 18,758 last year to 25,489 this year, removing an additional 6,731 students from public-school attendance rolls.
- 1,603 students enrolled in school after September 30, compared to 208 late registrants last year.
- Mississippi public-school enrollment has been declining annually, dropping an average of 5,511 students each year over the past three years.
Other factors that contribute to enrollment declines include students moving out of state and students entering private schools.
Mississippi’s School Attendance Officers (SAO) have been working with districts to ensure all compulsory school-age children whose families have not re-enrolled them in local public schools are registered in a learning environment.
SAOs work to secure documentation for every student who leaves public school to validate their status. As of December 3, 2020, SAOs have validated the status of all but 1,156 students which is similar to previous years.
State law requires children ages 6 to 17 to be enrolled in public or private school or a homeschool program. Families who enroll their 5-year-olds in kindergarten are also subject to the attendance law.
“Mississippi school districts have been working under extraordinary conditions to ensure all students in their communities are engaged in learning,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Teachers, principals, district leaders, school attendance officers, and families have done a heroic job meeting the daily challenges of the pandemic.”