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

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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