Children Going Into Nonpublic Options, Including Home Schooling, IncreasesBy WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) announced on Friday that public school enrollment has decreased, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. And education officials say it could impact funding for public schools.

According to MDE, there was roughly a 2% decrease (about 17,000 students) in public school enrollment between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families across the state made choices that they believed were best for their students including delaying starting kindergarten for our younger learners and some considered nonpublic options,” MDE said in a release.

Indeed, there was a significant increase in younger students enrolling in nonpublic options. Compared to the previous school year, there was a 12.4% increase in kindergarten enrollment at nonpublic options and the number of kids in home schooling increased by 49.5%.

MDE officials say, due to the per-pupil nature of the education funding formula, the decrease in public school enrollment will impact the amount of funding schools receive to operate their schools and support student learning.

“COVID-19 has already robbed our students of so many milestones that make school memorable,” Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said. “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. We have hope that our public school enrollment will rebound as Minnesota recovers from the pandemic. Until then, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure our public school systems are providing our students the education they need and deserve.”

According to MDE, the decrease in public enrollment highlights the need for a provision in the governor’s proposed education budget, which addresses pandemic enrollment loss.

The enrollment data is based on what enrollment counts looked like as of Oct. 1, 2020.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday set a goal that all schools offer some in-person learning by March 8, citing low test positivity rates and declining hospitalizations in the state as reasons that schools can reopen safely.