A huge drop in enrollment this academic year had school districts and lawmakers concerned about tens of thousands “missing” kids and where they all went during the COVID pandemic.
But the puzzle pieces are coming together, as lawmakers work on Florida’s state budget this session.
During a Senate appropriations subcommittee on education Wednesday, Sen. Doug Broxson implied that a chunk of those kids are now better accounted for. He represents Escambia, Santa Rosa and part of Okaloosa counties.
“We know that the enrollment was down some 88,000, that’s been reduced to about 48,000,” he said, referring to the number of students expected to enroll in Florida schools during the 2020-21 school year, but did not.
The 88,000 number was an estimate given earlier by Florida’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research to help lawmakers gauge how many students were in school.
To be sure, hard work from districts and local administrators reduced some of that 88,000.
The estimates for school enrollment are important as the Legislature works on the next academic year, and the 2021-22 budget.
In raw numbers, not estimates, data from the Department of Education showed a decrease in enrollment of about 67,000 student from the 2019-20 academic year to the 2020-21 academic year. School officials scurried to find the kids.
That said, there’s still tens of thousands of students unaccounted for. District and state officials continue to work to get a better idea of where these kids went.
So far, the answers vary greatly.
The Phoenix previously reported that some of the students who would have normally gone to a district school opted for private school or homeschool options. Some were kindergarten-aged kids who were not required to start school yet, so parents opted to keep them out of school until the COVID pandemic waned.
Some children of migrant families travel between states for work at different parts of the year. The COVID pandemic may have made it harder for those families to travel.
Some students are probably truant, meaning the district doesn’t know where they are. Others dropped out of school when they were of the age to do so.
All of these situations and more contribute to the lower enrollment numbers, but exact breakout of those ‘missing’ students may not be known for some time.
And following the pandemic, some of these kids may return back to district schools.
For now, the appropriations subcommittee will offer a bit of cushion to account for the remaining ‘missing’ students.
“The Senate has put 350 million in reserves to provide additional funds for student enrollment counts for 2021-22,” Broxson told the members of the subcommittee. That’s to cover the 48,000 students in case they show up in the fall.
The budget will have to be approved by the House and Senate by the end of the 2021 session, and could see changes before then.