By the Numbers: What’s behind public school enrollment declines?

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More than 240,000 students have unaccounted absences — or are missing from public school rolls — according to an analysis of publicly available enrollment data in 21 states by The Associated Press, Stanford University’s Big Local News project and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee.

The research dug into the public school enrollment drop brought on by the pandemic between 2019-20 and 2021-22, looking to see where those students went. While the increasing homeschooling population and decreasing size of the school-aged population contributed to roughly a quarter of the decline, the analysis found more than a third of the “missing” students are left unexplained — even when considering the small increase in private school enrollment. 

The analysis backs up findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics that have shown declining public school enrollment since COVID-19’s onset. Enrollment nationwide hit 50.8 million students in fall 2019 and dipped to 49.5 million in fall 2021.

The decreased enrollment resulting from the pandemic “is likely to endure” for public schools, Dee wrote in an essay on the analysis. Following these steady enrollment declines and with a looming September 2024 spending deadline for historic federal COVID-19 relief, districts may also soon face budget cuts. Those cuts could in turn bring on more school closures or even teacher layoffs

Take a deeper look at the key findings on K-12 enrollment in 21 states from the AP and Stanford analysis here:

By the numbers: From 2019-20 to 2021-22


– 710,513

The decrease in students enrolled in public schools.


– 2.9%

The decline in public school enrollment.



The number of new students enrolled in private school.



The growth in private school enrollment.



The number of new students being homeschooled.



The growth in homeschooling enrollment.


– 240,133

The number of “missing” students — that is, those for whom enrollment loss is unexplained.


– 183,486

The dip in the total school-age population.



The estimated percentage of the public school enrollment decline attributed to increased homeschooled students and fewer school-aged children in the population.


Over 1/3

The portion of the public school enrollment decline left unexplained.

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