A Friday report from the Minnesota Department of Education confirmed what many have suspected all along: parents are opting to take their children out of public schools.
Overall public-school enrollment decreased by 2% between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, MDE said in its report, which translates to a net loss of about 17,000 students. This decrease was driven largely by a 9% drop in public kindergarten enrollment, according to the MDE.
Nonpublic options saw a 12.4% increase in kindergarten enrollment between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. The most significant shift was the number of home-schooled students, which increased by a whopping 49.5%.
Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker used the enrollment drop to advocate for emergency funding for public schools.
According to the MDE, one student enrolled in public schools generates approximately $10,164 in general education revenue. So a loss of 17,000 students would result in a roughly $172 million loss in funding.
“COVID-19 has already robbed our students of so many milestones that make school memorable,” said Ricker. “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.”
Gov. Tim Walz’s biennial budget proposal calls for a one-time increase of $25 million in education funding to help “limit the impact of enrollment loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Republicans, however, are likely to argue that the enrollment drop is due to teachers unions refusing to return to full-time, in-person learning.
“The dirty truth is they’re siding with the teachers unions that funneled $40 million to the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives,” U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer said in a recent interview.
Campaign finance records show that Education Minnesota’s political action committee donated $297,964 to the Minnesota DFL in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2018, the year Gov. Walz ran for the executive office.
“This is a great opportunity for people to start talking with their legs. You know, parochial schools, private schools. They all have increasing enrollment because they’re in school,” Emmer added. “This might be one of those come to Jesus times for our public school system.”