New preliminary federal data show a 3% decline in public K-12 enrollment nationwide. This figure is for 2020-21, compared to 2019-20. Declines were highest in the lower grades, especially among the youngest students:
- Pre-K and Kindergarten enrollments declined 13%.
- Grades 1-8 decreased 3%.
- High school grades (9-12) declined 0.4%.
Across the nation, some states hit harder than others
States had uneven rates of decline. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which released the data, notes:
Within states, the largest decreases were in Mississippi and Vermont (5 percent each), followed by Washington, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Maine (each between 4 and 5 percent) (figure 1). Eighteen states had decreases of 3 percent or more; 29 states had decreases between 1 and 3 percent; and the District of Columbia, South Dakota, and Utah had changes of less than 1 percent.
The map below shows where enrollment downturns were most concentrated.
Public enrollment declines do not tell the full story
North Carolina’s drop in public K-12 enrollment was just under 3%. However, as state data affirm, the decline in public enrollment was concentrated among district public schools.
Enrollment at NC public charter schools, on the other hand, increased at every grade level. The state’s charter schools added 9,000 students in 2020-21. As a result, public charter enrollment rose 7.7%.