Public school enrollment decreases nationwide

NEW YORK (CNN) - More parents are looking for alternatives to virtual learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is leading to a decrease in public school enrollment nationwide.

Ryan and Elizabeth Newhart are grateful that, as of three weeks ago, their two youngest children are able to attend school in person five days a week.

“You absolutely take school for granted until your children are home and you’re responsible for schooling them yourselves,” Elizabeth Newhart said.

Ronan, 8, and Isla, 6, began the school year virtually at Oak Park elementary, a public school just outside of Chicago.

Right away, there were signs of trouble.

“They were having tantrums for their teachers, which would never have happened in person, and really just losing, losing control,” Elizabeth Newhart said.

Balancing Zoom classes and their jobs - Ryan Newhart works in marketing, Elizabeth Newhart in human resources - was becoming equally untenable for the middle class couple.

“At times, both of us may be on conference calls and not having our full attention with the kids and not being professionally trained teachers either,” Ryan Newhart said.

After making some tough cuts to the family budget, they took Ronan and Isla out of Oak Park and enrolled them at St. Giles, a nearby Catholic school.

Virtual learning is less of a challenge for 15-year-old Liam, who remains in public school.

“We had to do a lot of number-crunching, right, and a lot of thinking about how we were going to make this work, but we felt like it was something that we had to do,” Elizabeth Newhart said.

They’re not alone. An increasing number of parents are looking for alternatives to virtual learning, leading to an alarming drop in public school enrollment nationwide.

“Right now, people are in survival mode, in my personal perspective,” said Dennis Goodwin, superintendent of the Murphy Elementary School District in Phoenix.

He said he understands why parents are making the move.

“Going to a charter or another school that is open for them, I completely respect and understand that their situations,” Goodwin said.

That doesn’t make his job any easier. Having just taken his district, one of the Arizona’s poorest, out of bankruptcy, he now faces another crisis: an 8% drop in enrollment this year.

“We know some went to charters. We know some just moved out of the area. But we can’t find them and we’re not alone with that,” Goodwin said.

Fall enrollment in Chicago’s public schools is at a 20-year low.

Massachusetts has seen a nearly 4% Drop. Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia shows enrollment this school year is down nearly 5%.

Miami, Los Angeles, Charlotte and New York are all reporting declines.

Revenue is based on student enrollment. Fewer students mean fewer resources allocated to school districts.

“You still have to provide all the same services that you’ve had before. It just had less dollars to be able to accomplish that,” Goodwin said.

The longer-term consequences of students and teachers not being able to get the resources they need because of budget cuts - “Well, the kids fall behind,” Goodwin said.

Fewer students in public schools also contribute to a growing socioeconomic divide.

Millions of families depend on schools for childcare and meals, in addition to education.

“It just makes things a lot more difficult when you lose students,” Goodwin said.

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