Examining Heterogeneities in Public School Enrollment Trends During the Pandemic: Evidence from Four States

Umut Ozek

The decline in public school enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic as many school districts switched to fully remote or hybrid instruction has been a major cause for concern in the United States. A recent analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that total K–12 enrollment dropped by 3% nationwide in 2020–21 compared to the previous school year.

The primary objectives of this study were to better understand these enrollment trends in four states (California, Florida, Texas, and Washington), the extent to which the trends differ across different school settings, and the factors that are associated with these enrollment trends. In particular, the brief examined the overall enrollment trends in these four states along with breakdowns by grade, race/ethnicity, and school characteristics.

Key Findings

  • All four states saw substantial declines in K–12 enrollment in 2020–21.
  • There is considerable variation in the patterns across grades, with kindergarten enrollment experiencing the largest drop in all four states.
  • Enrollment declined in 2020–21 for White, Hispanic, and Black students, but the decline in enrollment for White students was larger than for Hispanic and Black students in three of the four states (California, Texas, and Washington).
  • In all states, within-district variation in school-level enrollment changes was larger than the between-district variation.
  • There was significant heterogeneity in enrollment changes by the average socioeconomic status of the student body (SES) (as proxied by the share of students who are eligible for subsidized meals and the characteristics of the census tract in which the school is located).
  • There are significant differences in enrollment shifts between traditional public schools (TPS) and charter schools in Texas and Florida.
  • The breakdown by school location reveals that the enrollment decline was not necessarily concentrated in urban areas.