Minnesota public school enrollment dips; private school student counts rise

A teacher organizes classroom materials
Pre-K teacher Jenna Ssemujjaat organizes her classroom in between virtual learning sessions at Centennial Elementary School in Richfield, Minn., on Jan. 14. The enrollment hit to Minnesota’s public school system is not as severe as the 2020-2021 school year, but the number of families looking elsewhere for their students’ education needs continues to rise.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Enrollment in Minnesota’s public schools continues to decline — a trend that started when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted schooling in the 2020-2021 school year. 

New data from the state Education Department shows that the percentage of children enrolled in Minnesota’s K-12 public schools has decreased over the last year by 0.3 percent or just over 2,000 students. The decline is far less severe than the nearly 2 percent drop that hit schools in the 2020-2021 school year, when many of Minnesota’s K-12 buildings were closed to in-person learning due to pandemic regulations. 

“Throughout the pandemic, the needs of our students have continued to expand, and we must ensure our public schools have the funding and resources to support students and families,” Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a statement on Friday. 

The 2020-2021 school year was the first time Minnesota’s public school enrollment numbers have fallen in nearly a decade. In that year, many schools, especially in urban and suburban districts, were unable to offer full-time in-person learning options for their students for much of the year due to COVID-19 regulations. 

Although this year’s declines are not as severe, they will still affect district budgets. The amount of state funding schools receive is calculated based on a per-pupil formula. 

“Any time you experience declining enrollment, the reality is the revenue drops off much faster than you can shed the expenses. That does create a significant financial challenge for school districts,” said Scott Croonquist, who is executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. 

The most significant increases in this year’s enrollment numbers were among kindergarten students, who returned to public schools, driving enrollment up 5.2 percent. That’s compared to a 9 percent enrollment drop between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. 

Other significant enrollment increases came from students who are English language learners, with a growth of 5.4 percent. And students receiving special education services, with a growth of 1.5 percent.

Fewer Minnesota families decided to home-school their students this year, to the tune of a more than 10 percent enrollment decrease. But nonpublic schools saw a 5.8 percent enrollment increase. 

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