PHOENIX — Annually released data from the Department of Education shows that 37,401 fewer students were enrolled in Arizona schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2019, the Education Department counted 1,144,026 students. The following October that count declined to 1,106,625.
The data is published on the department’s website and is a count of students as of October 1. The data goes back to 2015.
What could be behind the decline in enrollment?
ABC15 reached out to Maricopa County School Superintendent Steve Watson, who told us that it could be a combination of delayed enrollment and early graduation.
“We know that a lot of parents held their students back in kindergarten…I personally know a lot of people whose kids graduated early from high school,” Watson said.
Does the data support this theory? In terms of delayed enrollment at the earliest grade levels, the answer is yes.
Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 42% drop in enrollment for preschool and kindergarten students statewide.
This translates to 16,019 — roughly half of the total enrollment decline in 2021. The data is less supportive of early graduation being a factor, as there were 1,017 more seniors enrolled compared to last year.
What about enrollments in private school and homeschool?
A study by the organization EdChoice pegged the number of private school students in Maricopa County at around 24,000. Data from the Maricopa County Superintendent’s office found just over 19,500 children are registered in private schools.
There are a similar number of homeschooled students in the county — 20,000. Almost half of these students were enrolled in homeschooling during the pandemic years.
Based on this, it does appears that many of the missing students moved to a homeschooling situation.
We don’t have the same homeschool enrollment data for other counties in the state, but if the spike in homeschool enrollment was proportional, that would account for a large portion of the remaining missing students.
Another factor adding to the uncertainty is county education officials don’t know how many parents started homeschooling their children without registering them.
Parents who wish to homeschool their child need to schedule an appointment with the county, which they can do here.