Education

Coronavirus leads to fewer young students in Washington public schools

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Oct. 7, 2020 11:13 p.m.

Fewer students showing up for kindergarten is pulling down enrollment at public schools, including in Clark County

The sign outside Evergreen Public Schools pictured July 29, 2020. Kindergarten enrollment at Evergreen dropped 21.8% from 2019 to 2020.

The sign outside Evergreen Public Schools pictured July 29, 2020. Kindergarten enrollment at Evergreen dropped 21.8% from 2019 to 2020.

Troy Brynelson / Troy Brynelson

Enrollment in Washington’s public schools dipped statewide by 2.8% at the start of the school year, according to state officials, driven by declines in the early grades, particularly kindergarten. The declines were even sharper in southwest Washington, where the downslide was steeper virtually everywhere — from Vancouver to Battle Ground and Washougal.

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There are 14% fewer children enrolled in Washington’s public school kindergartens this year than in fall 2019, according to data released Wednesday by the office of the superintendent of public instruction. That’s by far the biggest drop and suggests parents are opting out of having their youngest students starting public school careers in a year challenged by coronavirus restrictions.

“With the uncertainty of what this school year would bring, it is not a surprise to see these shifts in enrollment,” said Chris Reykdal, Washington’s state superintendent of public instruction.

The declines were even more pronounced in Clark County schools. Seven southwest Washington school districts saw enrollment drops significantly larger than the state average, including Battle Ground (7.6%), Camas (3.9%), Evergreen (4.7%), Hockinson (6.9%), La Center (5.3%), Vancouver (5.2%) and Washougal (4.4%). Ridgefield and the tiny school districts of Green Mountain and Mount Pleasant didn’t see the same steep declines, but didn’t grow either.

Like the state as a whole, the declines in southwest Washington were also driven by fewer kindergarteners entering school. At Evergreen Public Schools, there were 364 fewer kindergarteners — a drop of 21.8% — compared to 2019. The trend was just as pronounced in the Vancouver district, where kindergarten numbers fell by 20%, or 344 kindergarten students.

State officials said Washington’s declines are similar to what other states are experiencing, but they called on parents to stay in touch with school districts, regardless of choices they’re making about their children’s education.

Oregon officials said they would not have enrollment information to share until figures are published in February.

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