November 25, 2020

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Washington’s 2020 school enrollment drops by 31,000 students

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Significantly fewer students in Washington state enrolled in public schools this fall compared to 2019, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction released on Wednesday.

September 2020 data shows a 2.8% drop in enrollment — translating to nearly 31,000 students out of nearly 1.1 million total — in Washington’s public K–12 schools compared to September 2019.

About a third of the total decrease — more than 11,000 students — is attributed to kindergarten-age children either not enrolling or delaying their kindergarten start, OSPI said.

Kindergarten saw the largest decrease in enrollment — 14 percent — from September 2019 to September 2020.

“Across the board, the early grades experienced larger declines in enrollment than the later grades,” OSPI said in its news release.

Washington also saw a nearly 50 percent increase in alternative learning experience (ALE) courses, rising from roughly 30,000 students to 44,000 students year over year. ALE courses are public education courses where some or all instruction is delivered outside of a regular classroom schedule.

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the decrease, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said.

“As our nation continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, states across the country are seeing changes in K–12 enrollment as families make decisions about the safest and most effective learning environments for their children,” Reykdal said in a news release.

Washington school districts count each month how many students are enrolled in classes. The data is used to determine which communities are growing or how many students are taking advantage of alternative learning and dual credit opportunities.

If these trends continue, “many of our districts will need to make adjustments in the short-term even as they plan for booming kindergarten and first-grade classes next year,” Reykdal said. “We will continue working with the Legislature and our congressional delegation on solutions to these unique challenges.”

Pierce County

Of 15 school districts in Pierce County, overall enrollment decreased from 132,138 students in September 2019 to 127, 596 students in September 2020, a difference of 4,542 students.

In Pierce County’s four largest school districts, recorded enrollment declined by:

  • 872 students in Tacoma (3 percent)
  • 750 students in Puyallup (3 percent)
  • 118 students in Bethel (.6 percent)
  • 856 students in Clover Park (6.7 percent)

The districts with the highest percentage of change to their enrollment were Dieringer, which recorded a loss of 145 students, or roughly 9 percent of its total enrollment, and Peninsula, which recorded a loss of 709 students, or roughly 7 percent of its total enrollment.

Only two school districts in Pierce County reported increased enrollment numbers, including University Place (increase of 23 students) and Carbonado (increase of 3 students).

Thurston County

Of eight school districts in Thurston County, overall enrollment decreased from 42,116 students in September 2019 to 40,657 in September 2020, a difference of 1,459 students, or 3.4 percent.

In Thurston County’s four largest school districts, recorded enrollment declined by:

  • 555 students in North Thurston (3.7 percent)
  • 291 students in Olympia (2.9 percent)
  • 174 students in Tumwater (2.6 percent)
  • 291 students in Yelm (5 percent)

Whatcom County

Of seven school districts in Whatcom County, overall enrollment decreased from 26,930 students in September 2019 to 25,909 students in September 2020, a difference of 1,021 students.

In Whatcom County’s three largest school districts, recorded enrollment declined by:

  • 382 students in Bellingham (3.3 percent)
  • 331 students in Ferndale (7.3 percent)
  • 195 students in Lynden (5.7 percent)

Tri-Cities

Of 15 school districts in the Tri-Cities area (Benton, Walla Walla and Franklin counties), overall enrollment decreased from 66,879 students in September 2019 to 65,362 students in September 2020, a difference of 1,517 students.

In the four largest school districts in the Tri-Cities area, recorded enrollment declined by:

  • 273 students in Kennewick (1.4 percent)
  • 317 students in Pasco (1.7 percent)
  • 489 students in Richland (3.5 percent)

Follow more of our reporting on Full coverage of coronavirus in Washington

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Allison Needles covers city and education news for The News Tribune in Tacoma. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

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