Where did all the students go?

Chalkbeat Indiana reported that enrollment dropped by almost 15,000 students this fall in Indiana public schools. I wrote that the loss to school districts was over 17,000 students. It gets worse. Judging by recent state data, enrollment in local public schools fell by over 24,000 students.

Where did they go? Several thousand moved to online schools, either virtual charter schools or online programs operated by other school districts. Some families apparently opted out of enrolling their 5-year-olds in kindergarten. A majority of the missing students are probably home-schooling.

In terms of state funding, the loss of 24,000 students translates to a loss of nearly $150 million for public schools in the 2020-21 school year. It’s almost as much money as the schools lose to Indiana’s voucher program, which provides tuition funding for students who attend private schools.

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Making sense of homeschool and dropout figures

Indiana makes it nearly impossible for students under 18 to drop out of school but easy – extremely easy – for them to withdraw to be homeschooled.

That background could help make sense of the revelation that some high schools may be steering students from dropping out to homeschooling. Chalkbeat Indiana broke the story with an investigation that focused on CSUSA Emmerich Manual, an Indianapolis “turnaround academy.”

Manual reported that 60 students from its 2018 graduating cohort left to homeschool – nearly as many as the 83 students who graduated. Chalkbeat reporter Dylan Peers McCoy interviewed a mom who said she signed papers for her son to drop out, only to learn he had been reported as leaving to homeschool.

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