Jun 1, 2022 - News

Tampa Bay's gains and losses in the pandemic school enrollment shuffle

Change in enrollment in Florida public schools
American Enterprise Institute; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

COVID has wreaked havoc on virtually every aspect of America's public schools. Now parents are pulling their kids out of the system altogether, Axios' Erin Doherty writes.

Why it matters: With school funding directly tied to enrollment, experts warn the decline will have deep repercussions for individual districts.

Zoom in: Enrollment in Florida's public schools declined less than 1% since the start of the pandemic, per a national survey by the American Enterprise Institute and the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College.

  • Pinellas County enrollment declined nearly 5%.

Driving the news: Parents are looking for a safer, more stable environment for their children, said ​​Thomas Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

  • The uncertainty of schooling pushed some parents to send their children to private or parochial schools, while others opted for home-schooling.
  • Other parents delayed their child starting kindergarten, Dee said. The study found that kindergarten enrollment in the most remote districts was hit the hardest, losing 8.1% of kids enrolling.

Yes, but: Districts that offered in-person learning, like most of Tampa Bay, were more likely to experience an enrollment rebound than schools that stayed virtual.

  • Pasco County enrollment grew by 6% and Polk by nearly 3%. Other Tampa Bay counties had gains of less than 1%.

By the numbers: Districts in the country with the most remote classes lost 4% of their students, compared to a 1% drop for those that held school in person, according to the survey.

  • Kindergarten enrollment was down 8% in districts with the most remote learning vs. a 2% drop for those with in-person schooling.

What they're saying: "Across the country, public school enrollments fell like never before over the past two years," Nat Malkus, deputy director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Axios.

  • "This is pandemic fallout on a huge scale. Changing schools is a fundamental, life-altering decision for families, and these enrollment shifts represent millions of hard decisions."
  • Dee said schools will have to plan for enrollment drops as "the new normal" as long as the pandemic persists.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Tampa Bay stories

Tampa Baypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more