Louisiana school enrollment is down more than 2%, reflecting a national trend following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Oct. 1, 2020, public school student count released Tuesday by the Louisiana Department of Education, overall enrollment in the state dropped 2.3% when compared to final numbers for the 2019-20 year. Each year school systems gather data in October and February.
State data show that 699,625 students are enrolled in pre-K through 12th grade for 2020-21. That’s a decline of 16,791 students from the final count of the 2019-20 school year gathered in February, a month before schools were closed due to coronavirus.
Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley attributed the drop to the pandemic as well as the hurricanes that impacted the state this year.
“Not only are we navigating school operations during a pandemic, but Louisiana was also impacted by a historically active hurricane season,” Brumley said. “Public school enrollment is down across the nation, and ours would have dropped much more if not for the efforts of educators to offer meaningful instruction.”
Brumley said he’s confident more families will return to public schools by February when the state takes its second student count of the school year and “when all systems safely resume face-to-face instruction.” Currently, more than 60% of Louisiana students are attending school in-person.
States across the nation are reporting declines in enrollment due to the pandemic. A recent data analysis of 33 states by The Associated Press and Chalkbeat showed public K-12 enrollment down by 2% when compared to 2019. According to the report, Mississippi saw a decline of 4.8%, Texas 2.89%, Kansas 2.86% Georgia 1.93%, and Arkansas and Alabama both 1.34%.
The most common exit reasons reported to schools was a transfer out of the state or country, transfer to homeschooling, and transfer to a nonpublic school, according to a Department of Education press release.
Below is a look at enrollment changes in Louisiana schools by region.
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Across Acadiana, there were 1,770 fewer students in public schools in October compared to February, before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Louisiana. That’s a 1.96% drop.
The Lafayette Parish School System fit the state trend, with a 2.3% decrease in enrollment from February to October. That figure represents 734 students.
A few schools saw major declines, including five that lost about 100 or more students during that time. Two of these schools saw a drop of at least 250 students.
Lerosen Preparatory Academy, the district’s alternative site, saw its enrollment fall from 283 students to only 19. As the district’s alternative site, students are referred to LeRosen by their base schools, and enrollment fluctuates. This number reflects a “snapshot in time,” district Public Information Officer Allison Dickerson said.
The district has seen fewer discipline referrals to LeRosen this year, Dickerson said, as students are attending school in a different way than usual. Fewer kids are on campus every day at middle and high schools, which are on a hybrid schedule.
Truman Early Childhood Education Center, a pre-K center in north Lafayette, saw 250 fewer students, reflecting a state and national trend. Pre-K and kindergarten accounted for nearly half of Louisiana’s overall enrollment decline.
Lafayette saw another drop in pre-K students, those listed in the state’s report as part of the Central Office because they are excluded from the Minimum Foundation Program funding equation, Dickerson explained. This group size decreased by nearly 100 kids from February to October.
Pre-K enrollment dropped 15.9% and kindergarten 6.7%, according to the Department of Education. While elementary and most middle grades saw a decline, grades 8-12 gained students.
Unlike older grades, pre-K and kindergarten are not mandated by law, but it is highly encouraged to ensure students are prepared for first grade. Foundational pre-reading and writing skills are taught in these early grades.
The largest loss in enrollment in Acadiana was in Iberia Parish schools, which saw a 3.44% decline since February. That represents 425 students.
The second-largest decline in the area was in St. Landry Parish. Its enrollment fell 2.61%, a loss of 339 students, since the pandemic began.
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Other school systems in the seven-parish Acadiana region saw minimal decreases, and Evangeline Parish added 16 kids to its rosters.
Central Louisiana schools now have 1,418 fewer students than before the pandemic began, or a 2.7% decline in enrollment throughout the seven-parish region.
Natchitoches Parish schools felt the brunt of this, losing 597 of its about 5,800 students in the district. The loss reflects a 10% drop in enrollment, which is among the largest declines in the state, according to an analysis of figures from the Department of Education.
Rapides Parish, the largest school system in the Cenla region, lost 384 students, or a 1.67% decline over its more than 50 sites. That includes Head Start centers for early childhood learners.
Vernon Parish had a 4% decrease in enrollment, while a few of the smaller surrounding parishes saw marginal losses. Grant Parish gained 21 students from February to October.
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Schools in the seven-parish northwest Louisiana region saw a 2.61% decline in enrollment from February to October, which was a loss of 2,005 students.
Caddo Parish had a lion’s share of that loss — 1,260 students or a 3.3% drop.
Bossier Parish, the second-largest school system in the region, lost 118 students or 0.5% of its enrolled population during that time.
Enrollment across seven school systems in northeast Louisiana fell by more than 3% from February to October, which is a loss of 1,332 students in area public schools.
Ouachita Parish also saw a 3% decrease in enrollment, and the City of Monroe School District’s loss was about 2%, as was Lincoln Parish Schools’.
Smaller, more rural school systems lost fewer students but higher percentages, perhaps feeling the difference most of all. Enrollment fell by 4.1% in Union Parish, 6% in Caldwell Parish and almost 6.4% in Morehouse Parish.
The Houma-Thibodaux area on the southeast Louisiana coast saw a drop of 426 students in public schools in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. That was a 1.34% decrease from February to October.
The major difference was felt in Terrebonne Parish, which saw a 2.61% drop in enrollment or a loss of 451 students, as Lafourche public schools gained 25 students during that time.
Contact Leigh Guidry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.