The COVID-19 pandemic produced “a vast exodus from local public schools,” and kindergartners in low-income communities accounted for a disproportionate share of children who didn’t enroll a year ago, according to a New York Times analysis.
Data from Indiana suggest something similar happened here. Enrollment in Indiana public school districts declined by just over 2% in fall 2020 from the previous year, but the number of students in kindergarten fell by about 8%.
The Times analysis – and Stanford University research, reported by Chalkbeat – tied much of the decrease to schools shifting to online learning to protect students and staff from COVID-19. The Stanford study found online learning alone reduced kindergarten enrollment by 3% to 4%.
In Indiana, more than two-thirds of districts saw a decline in kindergarten students between fall 2019 and fall 2020. Thirty-three districts saw their kindergarten numbers drop by 20% or more.
Urban districts were more likely than rural and suburban districts to have students learning online in fall 2020, so you’d expect them to see the biggest decrease in kindergarten students. In fact, Indianapolis Public Schools lost a quarter of its kindergarten enrollment, and Gary Community Schools and Indianapolis Pike and Washington Township schools saw 20% declines.
But the loss of kindergartners in Indiana seemed to be across the board, with no real pattern to the types of districts that lost the most. Some urban districts saw only small decreases, and some suburban districts – including Hamilton Southeastern, Brownsburg and Avon – lost more kindergarten students, percentagewise, than the state average.
The districts that saw the biggest decreases — over 30% — were small rural or town districts where the loss of a few students could make for a big percentage decrease.
Statewide, the data suggest that close to 6,000 Indiana children of kindergarten age were not enrolled in public schools in 2021. Where were they? Some may have been in private preschools or child-care centers, some of which operate kindergarten programs. Some were homeschooling. Others probably delayed starting kindergarten by a year.
Others may have simply skipped kindergarten and gone straight to first grade this month. Indiana, like about 30 other states, doesn’t require children to attend kindergarten, and they don’t have to enroll in school until the academic year in which they will turn 7.