STUDY: Wisconsin School Districts That Started School Year Virtually Experience Greatest Enrollment Declines

 In Education Reform, Press Releases, WILL News

Amidst statewide enrollment decline, schools that opted for virtual learning see largest declines

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) published a new study that reveals that school districts that started the 2020-21 school year with virtual learning saw significant enrollment declines. 34 Wisconsin school districts started the school year with virtual learning and experienced, on average, a 3% decline in enrollment. Enrollment statewide declined by 2.67%, on average, driven in large part by a drop in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment. The study also finds that school districts with established virtual charter schools saw a 4.5% increase in enrollment.

Diving Deeper: A November 2020 WILL study found that that the school districts in Wisconsin that started the school year with virtual learning appeared to do so at the behest of a teachers’ union and politics, not the local presence of COVID-19. This new study, Opting Out: Enrollment Trends in Response to Continued Public School Shutdowns, from WILL Research Director, Will Flanders, examines the effect of these decisions in the context of a historic statewide enrollment decline.

  • Enrollment declined statewide more than usual. On average, Wisconsin school districts saw a 2.67% decline in enrollment this year relative to 0.3% in previous years. This represents a 790% increase in enrollment decline relative to previous years and suggests an important impact of the pandemic on Wisconsin schools.
  • School districts that chose virtual learning to start the 2020 school year saw the largest enrollment declines. Districts with exclusively virtual education saw a 3% decline in enrollment, on average, relative to other districts in the state.
  • School districts with virtual charter schools saw an increase in enrollment. The 44 districts in Wisconsin with virtual charters saw an increase of approximately 4.5% in enrollment, on average, relative to other districts.
  • Private school choice programs continue to grow. Enrollment in Wisconsin’s parental choice programs increased by more than 2,700 in a year where public schools saw declines of nearly 36,000.

The Quote: WILL Research Director, Will Flanders, said, “Everyone has had to make adjustments due to the pandemic. But the decision of many teachers’ unions to oppose any attempt at in-person learning appears to have consequences. Many Wisconsin families have opted out of schools that are not even trying to accommodate in-person learning.”

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