Preliminary data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released last month seems to confirm what media organizations across the country have been reporting since the beginning of …
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This article was updated with additional data on Nov. 19. All of the original data and analysis is still included.
Preliminary data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released last month seems to confirm what media organizations across the country have been reporting since the beginning of the school year: a decline in kindergarten enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data shows the average daily membership, a measurement used by the state to give an idea of how many students are in schools, declined by 15.21% since last year across the state’s public schools, EducationNC reported Oct. 23. While this data is available for every grade level, the EdNC article said, kindergarten saw the steepest decline among all the grades when compared with data from 2019-20.
North Carolina, along with 30 other states, does not require children to attend kindergarten, though all public school systems must offer it.
In Chatham County Schools, this decrease in kindergarten enrollment is also evident, declining by 8.6% since last year, the difference of 58 students. In order to examine enrollment trends, the News + Record compared the district’s publicly available enrollment data, specifically looking at the Month 1 enrollment data for each school year over the last decade, and the Day 10 enrollment report (8-28-20) for this year.
More recent data for the current school year, capturing Month 1 enrollment (Aug. 17 - Sept. 14), shows a more drastic decrease of 12.18% since last year — 82 less kindergarten students since 2019, and 24 less than was recorded in the Day 10 enrollment report. There were no new decisions made by the CCS Board of Education during that time period; the board extended Plan C from four to nine weeks on Aug. 10, and then again extended it on Sept. 23. The News + Record does not currently have data regarding why these students left after previously enrolling.
Month 1 enrollment data for 2019 compared to the Aug. 28 report shows that there was also a 3.76% decrease (232 students) in enrollment of K-8 students since last year, and a 3.3% increase (93 students) of 9-12 grade students. Data analysis showed that some fluctuation was normal among the enrollment of individual grade levels, though these fluctuations consistently trended upward, with nearly all other decrease rates from one year to the next at less than 1%.
In fact, in the 2010-2020 time range analyzed, the total number of students in the district increased every year — apart from this year, which saw a 1.5% decrease from the 2019-20 school year, or a difference of 139 students, according to the Day 10 report. The 2020 Month 1 enrollment data shows a 2.88% decrease from 2019, the difference of 259 students. The total student population reflected in the Month 1 data reflects a 1.36% decrease from the Aug. 28 data.
The News + Record reached out to the district prior to the publication of this story to ask about the significance of these decreases. Public Information Coordinator John McCann said the district would “let the numbers speak for themselves.”
It’s important to note that analysis in Chatham is based on enrollment numbers, which is slightly different from ADM, the measurement used in DPI’s October report.
The Department of Public Instruction gives the following definition for ADM: “The total number of school days within a given term, usually a school month or school year, that a student’s name is on the current roll of a class, regardless of his/her being present or absent, is the number of days in membership for that student. The sum of the number of days in membership for all students divided by the number of school days in the term yields ADM.”
ADM is a more accurate count of the number of students in school than enrollment, the department says. In North Carolina, school districts receive funding based on their projected ADMs, meaning that they could face budget cuts for lower numbers. This year, in September, the General Assembly passed a bill ensuring districts would not face such cuts for ADM declines.
Prior to this year, 2015 and 2016 saw the lowest number of kindergartners in Chatham over the last decade, with 604 students enrolled in Month 1 of 2015 and 613 enrolled in Month 1 of 2016. The most updated enrollment data for this year shows there are 615 kindergarten students. In 2015, there was a 6% decline from the year before.
Across the state, EdNC reported that kindergarten ADM had increased slightly at a rate of 0.95% from the 2018-19 school year to 2019-20 school year. That’s why the 15.21% decrease this year — a difference of 15,721 kindergartners — is so staggering. All but five districts in the state saw a decrease in kindergarten ADM this year, EdNC reported.
In 1999, the first year of CCS enrollment data on the district’s website, there were 6,923 students in the district and 564 kindergartners. Today, total student enrollment is up 27% while kindergartner enrollment is up 9%. If compared to 2019’s Month 1 data instead of this year’s Day 10 data, kindergarten enrollment shows an increase of 19.3%.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that student enrollment had “dropped markedly” this school year across the Washington region, where school budget exemptions based on enrollment data have not yet been made. The article attributes the decline to families who have switched to home schooling or private schools with in-person learning, or those who’ve moved to farther-away school districts. The News + Record does not currently have data on the reasoning for any withdrawal in CCS; this data doesn’t necessarily exist for kindergarteners new to the district, though it could for kindergarten students who enrolled this year and then withdrew.
“We do not know how many students will return to school when buildings reopen but would anticipate that the numbers will rise,” Lucy Caldwell, a spokesperson for a Washington school district, told The Washington Post. “This will be a challenge to balance if the budget is reduced prematurely.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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