WTOC Investigates: Declining Enrollment

WTOC Investigates: Declining Enrollment

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The latest enrollment report is out in Georgia.

An overall decline of nearly 40,000 students in public schools across the state. Closer to home, nearly 1,000 of those left or did not enroll in Savannah-Chatham County. That’s according to the Fall 2020 FTE enrollment count compared to the previous year, which you can read below.

It may not sound like a lot considering there are more than 36,000 students district wide, but a 2.5 percent decline in enrollment is the largest drop SCCPSS has seen in at least five years.

“A lot of it we believe is the result is the upheaval of COVID 19 and the impact it’s had on transients,” said Joe Austin, director of Accountability, Assessment & Reporting Services with SCCPSS.

Austin studies the enrollment trends and the reasons behind them. During the pandemic, those reasons include students transferring out of state to other districts and a slight increase of students going to private schools.

The grade that’s seen the largest decline is kindergarten – a trend that’s happening across the state and nation. About 400 less Kindergarten students were enrolled in SCCPSS this past October compared to the fall of 2019.

”Many of our youngest learners are just staying home with their parents until the situation gets better,” Austin said.

Kindergarten saw the steepest decline with about 400 less students enrolled in Savannah-Chatham County schools in the fall.

The hope is that they will return when the pandemic is over, but the fear is how much could be lost.

”The majority of school funding is dependent on the number of students you have,” said Stephen Owens, a senior policy analyst Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. “That matters not just this year but for years in the future.”

One example he gave is how school district’s forecast enrollment trends to finance the cost of new schools. Each student enrolled in Kindergarten through 12th grade represents about $3,078 in state funding, he said. The decline in statewide enrollment in a year could mean as much as $112 million are lost in state funding to public schools.

For SCCPSS, the state funding cuts could be as much as $3 million based on the latest enrollment report, according to a WTOC analysis.

That’s if the General Assembly takes no action this month.

The latest statewide report of enrollment declines comes on the heels of a $950 million cut to public education by the General Assembly. It was done in response to the pandemic.

”This is just kind of the latest crisis schools have gone through in Georgia, and they can’t even make big budget decisions based on this because what happens when the virus is actually over? What happens during the spring? Do all these students come back,” Owens said. “So you can’t make these decisions to lower your budget if there’s a real possibility these students come back in the spring.”

July 1 is another important deadline for public education. It’s when state lawmakers decide the budget for next year.

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