Has the Mass Exodus From Public Schools Started?

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The teachers’ unions and the anti-school choice crowd are about to receive some troubling news. Recent data showed that even more families are pulling their children out of the public school system and taking advantage of different educational options. Amid school closures, debates over far-left ideology being injected into the classroom, unnecessary mask mandates, and the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have decided to say “goodbye” to the public school system.

The Federalist reported:

As enrollment data continue to trickle in, evidence continues to mount that families have abandoned public schools in large numbers, for the second academic year running.

Last June, the federal Department of Education released preliminary enrollment data for the 2020-21 school year. That initial report showed a drop in public school enrollment of 3.8 percent over the previous school year of 2019-20. Since there were approximately 51.1 million children attending public schools in 2019-20, that’s an enrollment loss of nearly 2 million in just that one school year.

Each state has reported decreases in enrollment. The numbers fell most significantly among preschool (22 percent) and kindergarten students (nine percent).

NPR reported that only a few districts out of 600 in 23 states have gone back to pre-pandemic numbers. Their report notes:

New York City’s school enrollment dropped by about 38,000 students last school year and another 13,000 this year.

In Los Angeles, the student population declined by 17,000 students last school year, and nearly 9,000 this year.

In the Chicago public schools, enrollment dropped by 14,000 last year, and another 10,000 this year.

There are several reasons why parents have chosen to walk away from public schools. NPR cites “an increase in home-schooling, a shift to charter schools and private schools, another year of delays in entering pre-K or kindergarten,” and other factors.

Private school enrollment fell last year in a similar fashion to public schools. However, they have now bounced back.

Charter schools have also seen a significant increase in their numbers. “In the fall of 2020, charter schools, which are publicly funded but run separately from districts, saw a 7 percent jump in enrollment, adding about 240,000 students nationwide,” according to NPR.

And despite the opposition, homeschooling has also seen an increase. The U.S. Census Bureau reported:

In the first week (April 23-May 5) of Phase 1 of the Household Pulse Survey, about 5.4% of U.S. households with school-aged children reported homeschooling .

By fall, 11.1% of households with school-age children reported homeschooling (Sept. 30-Oct. 12). A clarification was added to the school enrollment question to make sure households were reporting true homeschooling rather than virtual learning through a public or private school.

That change represents an increase of 5.6 percentage points and a doubling of U.S. households that were homeschooling at the start of the 2020-2021 school year compared to the prior year.

Of course, NPR did not bother to mention the role of the conversation over Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender theory in changing attitudes towards the public school system. But there can be no doubt the controversy has played a part. Parents, regardless of political affiliation, are deeply concerned about what material is being presented to their children without their knowledge.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic allowed parents to have firsthand knowledge of the woke theology that has made its way into the curriculum in many school districts. This has prompted Republican politicians to push for transparency laws to cement parents’ ability to see what is in the material that teachers are using in the classroom.

Republicans have seized on the education issue and made it a prominent part of the 2022 midterm campaigns. It’s a smart move. The majority of Americans do not favor elements of CRT being in their children’s classrooms. The Democrats have made themselves look silly by trying to gaslight the public into believing there are no problematic teachings in many schools. Defending explicit material in school libraries isn’t exactly a great look for the left either.

The education issue is one of several on which the Democrats have shown themselves to be out of touch with the American public. However, they seem to be suffering from a severe lack of self-awareness, because they have not yet figured this out. Indeed, the party’s leadership is so oblivious, the numbers that NPR reported will likely fall on deaf ears. But who are we to interrupt our opposition when they are making so devastating a mistake?


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