Public schools’ behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a mass exodus of parents toward alternative educational options.
Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, public schools lost 1.3-1.5 million prekindergarten-12th grade students, according to various estimates, erasing a decade of growth that was expected to continue before COVID-19..
Schools that stayed closed longer and enforced mask mandates during the pandemic generally saw the steepest declines in student headcount, per the American Enterprise Institute.
- Preschool (-18%) and kindergarten (-9%) suffered the most attrition, AEI found, foreshadowing more losses in higher grades if families with young children stay away.
But charter schools, which are public but less unionized and more flexible than their district counterparts, actually got a boost in enrollment of nearly 250,000, or 7%, over the same time period, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
- Meanwhile, the number of students being homeschooled increased by about 1.3 million, or 49%, following years of slow growth, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
- Private schools also appeared to get a small boost in enrollment from 2019-2021, the Cato Institute found.