By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Public school enrollment in Minnesota dropped by about 17,000 students as families turned to home schooling, private schools and delaying entry into kindergarten amid the coronavirus pandemic, state education officials announced Friday.

The enrollment figures from the Minnesota Department of Education represented a 2% drop from the previous school year.

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Officials had warned that they were seeing a decline. The state allocates school funding based on enrollment, and districts stand to lose about $10,164 for every student they failed to keep. Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed education budget includes $25 million in one-time money to compensate.

“COVID-19 has already robbed our students of so many milestones that make school memorable,” Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said in a statement. “Now, our schools are potentially facing a huge loss in funding and resources, which will mean schools faced with eliminating learning opportunities and experiences for our students, especially students who need them most.”

The department said the change was driven mostly by younger students, with public kindergarten enrollment dropping 9% even as private kindergarten enrollment increased 12.4%. The department also reported a 49.5% increase in home-schooled students. The “vast majority” of the decline in public school enrollment was among white students, it said.

Minnesota’s public schools shut down as the pandemic took hold last March and switched to distance learning. While that has worked for some families, officials concede the switch has been particularly hard on students of color, special needs kids and families without adequate home internet service. Elementary schools began returning to in-person learning last month, and Walz announced plans Wednesday to let middle and high school students return to their schools for at least some in-person learning by March 8.

“If we’re serious about making sure every child can pursue their dreams regardless of what they look like or where they are from, our leaders in the Legislature need to act quickly,” Denise Specht, president of the teachers’ union Education Minnesota, said in a statement. “We can’t let a one-year dip in enrollment force budget cuts that will penalize the students who will return next year, especially when schools already needed more resources to help our students rebound academically and recover emotionally after this horrible pandemic year.”

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Earlier Friday, Walz, a Democrat, announced that more than 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been given to Minnesota residents.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the state’s health care providers had administered 1,016,210 vaccine doses as of Wednesday. That total encompassed the 728,081 Minnesotans who had received at least one dose and the 286,543 who had completed the two-dose series.

“Every time a Minnesotan gets their shot, they are protecting themselves and moving our entire state closer to ending this pandemic,” Walz said in a statement. “We still need more vaccine from the federal government and we have a long road ahead, but we can truly see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Minnesota is currently vaccinating health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, teachers and school staff, child care workers, and people age 65 and over. The state has not announced yet when people in other groups will get their chance

The Walz administration rolled out a new online tool Thursday to help anxious residents learn when and where they can get vaccinated. The “Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Connector” will notify people who aren’t yet eligible when opportunities for them come up.

The Health Department reported 1,001 new cases and eight new deaths Friday, raising the state’s totals to 477,287 cases and 6,412 deaths.

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