Nov 29, 2023 - News

Virginia's public school enrollment is still lagging

Illustration of a school bus with a downward pointing arrow in place of the stop sign

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Virginia's public school enrollment is still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels.

Driving the news: 1,261,962 students were enrolled in Virginia public schools for the 2023-24 school year, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Education.

  • That's down around 3% from fall 2019 and a dip of 1,380 students from last year, when the state added around 11,000 public schools students.

Why it matters: Fewer students means less money for school districts.

Zoom in: With the exception of Chesterfield, all metro Richmond school districts have reported fewer students every year since the pandemic, per the Times-Dispatch.

  • Richmond schools saw 21,259 students enrolled at the start of the year, 1,900 fewer than 2019 and down 450 from last year. (Of note: RPS added nearly 350 students after the Sept. 30 count was released, per the RTD.)
  • Hanover enrolled 16,818 students this fall, 720 fewer students than fall 2019 and 250 under its 2022 numbers.
  • Henrico's fall enrollment was 50,464 students, down around 1,320 from 2019, but up 75 pupils from last year.

Meanwhile, Chesterfield had 64,183 students on its roster this fall — a 1,500 increase over 2019 and 220 over last year.

Declining birth rates are to blame, VDOE spokesperson Todd Reid told the Times-Dispatch.

  • "Virginia's yearly birth rate has been declining consistently since 2007, so it makes sense that our school populations likely would remain flat in the later years," Reid said.

Yes, but: The state and local trends mirror what's playing out across the country, which is students fleeing public schools in favor of private, charter and home school options, Axios' Erica Pandey reported earlier this year.

Post-pandemic data for private school enrollment isn't available, but home schooling has surged in Virginia.

  • Virginia had 53,522 students enrolled in homeschool this year — a 40% increase from the 2019 count, according to VDOE data.
  • 5,541 of those students are in the Richmond area — up from 4,220 for the 2019 school year.

What we're watching: What effect, if any, RPS' recent change to its specialty schools admissions process will have on local public school enrollment.

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