Indiana school districts stand to lose over $100 million in state funding this year because of reduced enrollment attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fall 2020 enrollment in traditional public schools declined by 17,300 students, according to data released last week by the Indiana Department of Education. Each of those students translates to over $6,200 in lost funding from the state.
It’s not yet clear what happened or where the students went. Some families may have opted to homeschool their children rather than send them to school during the pandemic. Some may have switched to private or charter schools.
A significant factor could be families with young children choosing to delay or skip kindergarten. Indiana does not require kindergarten attendance, and children are not required to start school until the academic year when they turn 7.
Over 80% of school districts lost enrollment, according to state data. They include some rural and urban districts that have been shedding students for years, but also suburban districts that have been growing. Hamilton Southeastern schools lost over 400 students; Carmel Clay schools lost over 200.
Indianapolis Public Schools lost the most students: nearly 2,000 according to the state data or approximately 1,200 according to the district’s own figures. (The discrepancy appears to reflect the state omitting from the district’s enrollment two KIPP charter schools that are part of the IPS innovation network; IPS includes the schools in its count).
Fort Wayne, Vigo County and Monroe County schools each lost more than 500 students. In Monroe County, the loss of 535 students will mean a financial hit of $3.3 million, the Herald-Times reported.
Some school districts started the academic year online, and that may have pushed some families to turn to charter or private schools that were offering face-to-face instruction. But it appears a bigger factor was families choosing online programs to avoid in-person instruction during the pandemic.
Charter schools increased their enrollment by about 2,500, but most of the sector’s growth came from a gain over nearly 2,000 students by Connections Academy, an online charter school. Similarly, two school districts that offer statewide online programs in partnership with for-profit K12 Inc. also saw significant growth, presumably because of those online programs. Union School Corp. reported its enrollment grew from 4,396 to 6,468. Clarksville Community Schools grew from 1,635 to 2,987.
The loss of funding comes as schools are facing cost increases related to the pandemic: expenses for online programs, computers and internet connections, protective equipment, cleaning supplies and other needs. Federal funding via the CARES Act helped pay some of those costs, but not all of them.
The big question is whether Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Republican-dominated state legislature will prioritize school funding in the two-year budget they approve in the spring. When it comes to school funding, there’s likely to be more bad news ahead.