Want more news on public education? Sign up for free and weekly at the Alabama Education Lab newsletter, Ed Chat.
Enrollment in Alabama public schools rebounded slightly this fall – but remains below pre-pandemic numbers.
Last year, state officials sounded the alarm about 9,800 “missing students” – those who were in school in the fall of 2019 but whom authorities could not find in 2020 either because they had changed districts, chosen homeschool or private school options, or dropped out altogether.
Just under 718,000 students enrolled this fall, 6,000 fewer than in the 2019-20 school year, and Black Belt schools and rural schools saw the largest enrollment declines. .
Read more Ed Lab:
- Alabama schools miss 9,800 students in 2020.
- This Alabama school has battled COVID reading issues through teacher support and training.
Still, the number was slightly above the roughly 714,000 enrolled in 2020, with the largest year-over-year increases occurring in kindergarten classes and charter schools.
Alabama Department of Education data is based on the average daily membership count, calculated within 20 days of Labor Day.
Black Belt schools have lost students
Most of the decline in enrollment between last year and this year occurred in the black belt and rural county systems.
The largest percentage drop from last year to this year was seen in schools in the city of Selma, which lost 380 students, or 14% of total enrollment. Conecuh County lost 200 of its 1,600 students from a year ago, down 13%.
The map below shows the percentage change from last year’s registrations.
Click here if you cannot see the map of district level changes.
Alabama’s largest school district, Mobile County, has enrolled 760 fewer students than last year and has lost a total of 2,500 students since the 2019-20 school year. The number of registrations this year is just under 50,000 students.
Many districts that were virtual for much of 2020-2021 have seen their enrollment decline, including Birmingham and Montgomery – but these are also districts that have been losing students for a long time.
Limestone County, which operates a statewide virtual school, saw the largest increase statewide, adding 1,900 students this year, bringing their total enrollment to 14 600 students. The school enrollment breakdown is not yet available, so it’s unclear how many of these students are enrolled in the district’s virtual school, Alabama Connections Academy.
Among the city’s school systems, Pike Road Town Schools saw the largest percentage increase, with 185 students enrolled, 8% more than last year, bringing the total number of students to 2 600 students.
Kindergarten classes have increased
Kindergarten classes saw the largest increase in grade level – 4,200 students, an 8% growth for a total of 57,100 kindergartens statewide.
There are 3,000 more first graders than there were kindergartens last year, which could mean that some families who chose not to attend kindergarten during the pandemic have placed their children directly in first year.
The second largest increase is in the ninth grade, which has grown from 57,800 last year to 61,300 students this year. Conversely, there are 1,000 fewer students in grade 10. This could mean that students were transferred to homeschool or private school options, or that more students were retained – we don’t know yet.
Despite the increase in total enrollment, some grade levels have experienced year-over-year declines.
Enrollment in sixth and seventh years is down by 1,500 and 1,110, respectively, between 2% and 3% of total enrollment in these years.
Click here if you cannot see the grade level changes table.
Overall, charter school enrollments have increased the most, from 1,200 students in the 2019-20 school year to 2,900 students in the current year. Three new charter schools opened this year and four of the five existing charter schools added a new grade level to their school.
There are no reliable figures on the number of students homeschooled or enrolled in private schools across the state, as these figures do not need to be reported. Incidentally, many families across the state have reported switching to home schooling during the pandemic.
Last year, lawmakers filled the void of lost students with a special $ 96 million credit called the Teacher Stabilization Program. A total of 98 school districts are enrolling fewer students this year than in 2019-2020, some of whom benefited from this special credit. Officials have yet to say whether they will seek similar funding this year.
The table below shows the enrollments for three school years: SY2019-20, SY2020-21 and SY2021-22. Enrollment is calculated as the average number of students enrolled in the first 20 days after Labor Day. The last column shows the total percentage change in enrollment from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2020-21 school year.
Click here if you cannot see the average registration changes table.