by James A. Bacon
There are many gaps and omissions in the Northam administration’s just-published “2021 Annual Report on the Conditions and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia” — most notably the lack of recognition that the acute problems described by the report stem in part from policies endorsed by the Northam administration itself — but the Board of Education (BOE) document does highlight several issues that any fair-minded person would acknowledge need highlighting.
One of those issues is the sharp decline in public school enrollment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably in Pre-K and Kindergarten. As seen in the graph above, pre-K enrollment is down 18.6% and Kindergarten is down 12.8%.
Do these declines portend comparable declines in public school enrollment as these age cohorts work their way through the educational pipeline? Has something fundamental changed about the way parents of young children think about their schooling? Or are these declines transitory blips that will disappear as America learns to live with the virus?
The questions are vitally important. If public school enrollment in Virginia falls by 10% or more over the long term, the fiscal impact could be momentous. As consequential as the issue is for public schools, the report devotes virtually no analysis to it.