Lowcountry public schools report enrollment declines amid pandemic

The Investigators

Pre-kindergarten students listen as their teacher reads a story at Dawes Elementary in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, Pool)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)– Enrollment data released by the State Department of Education shows a decline in studnet enrollment across Lowcountry school districts.

The national trend follows a unprecedented school year filled with Covid-19 closures, online learning, and major adjustments to students’ learning environment.

As a result, some parents have opted to keep their children home, send their students to private schools, or opt for virtual learning programs instead of traditional public schools.

Dorchester District Four reported a 7.2% enrollment decline compared to this time last year. Dorchester District Two’s enrollment is down 6.1%. Charleston County School District’s enrollement is down 3.9% and Berkeley County School District is down 1.7%

Ryan Brown with the State Department of Education said they have seen declines in most school districts in the state but have noticed an increase in enrollment for their online public charter schools.

“Those that are leaving would either be leaving out of state or their parents are opting to home school them or going to a private or parochial school in the state,” said Brown.

Melissa McCully made the switch to home schooling last summer. The Mount Pleasant mother of seven said they took the leap after careful consideration.

“We thought if we did this we wanted to be able to set the pace for the learning and have some control over content,” said McCully.

The South Carolina Independent School Association reported a 2-10% increase in enrollment for private and parochial member schools.

Enrollment trends can have implications on state funding and teacher allocation both of which are based on the number of students in a specific district or school.

Ryan Brown said it is too early to see how funding will be impacted.

“Enrollment declines are not good for education funding but because we are in the pandemic year and the federal government has provided so much support we are fortunate we are not in a worse position,” he said.

Charleston County School District Communication Director, Andy Pruitt said the demand for teachers is high regardless of enrollment because of the different learning pathways offered amid the pandemic.

“We want to make sure that everyone we still have on we are keeping on because when it comes to teaching in person and virtually there needs to be extra resources on hand,” said Pruitt.

The greatest decline in enrollment was noted for kindergarten and pre-k. Experts said many families opted to keep their children in daycare programs or keep them home rather than start school. Local districts noted the trend could lead to learning loss, making it harder for educators to make up for lost time later.  

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