Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nationwide, public school enrollment has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the four states Word in Black examined – Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Washington – enrollment for the 2020/2021 school year decreased by more than 2% statewide, according to school enrollment data from each state.

In the 2019/2020 school year, enrollment had increased by roughly 1% in each of the states, except for Michigan, which decreased by half a percent.

Michigan, Texas and Washington all have race specific demographic data available in the enrollment information. In each of those states, the number of Black students enrolled has decreased by roughly 1% during the pandemic, while the number of white students enrolled has decreased by over 4%.

There is only one instance, in the states included, where the number of white students enrolled wasn’t the largest decline. In Texas, there was a 6.5% decline in the number of American Indian or Alaska Native students enrolled in the 2020/2021 school year compared to the 2019/2020 school year.

The most dramatic declines are in pre-k and kindergarten enrollment. In each state, pre-k enrollment decreased between 13% and 42%, and kindergarten enrollment decreased between 6% and 15%. 

Recently, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C. announced that there continued to be fewer public school applications in the 2021-2020 school year, citing a 21% drop in total applications. The report noted the largest declines were in “pre-K 3 and non-entry grades.”

However, in Washington, enrollment in half-day kindergarten increased by more than 400% after declining the previous school year. But in Texas, even the “early education” enrollment decreased by 20%.

“This is a conversation that was always happening pre-COVID,” Sylvia Simms, an education advocate who runs the group Parent Power, told WHYY in Philadelphia. “It’s still about the haves and the have-nots. If you have the resources and the money to go to a better neighborhood, go to a different district, you are able to do these things, but if you cannot, you’re stuck.”

White students are leaving public school at higher rates than any other race, especially those in early education. There are any number of reasons this could be: those parents can afford private tutors or to enroll their children in private school; those parents can afford private childcare; or those parents are able to keep their children at home with no disruption to their work schedules. Whatever the reason, this will further the existing disparities in primary school outcomes.

Support for this article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Maya Pottiger is a data journalist for Word in Black. She was previously a data journalist for the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland, where she earned both her BA and Master of Journalism. Her work has been featured...