Deadline Detroit | Pandemic shakeup: Michigan public school enrollment slips, private schools gain

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Bridge Michigan documents an “extension of the often contentious debates that have exploded during the pandemic over whether to keep schools closed or open:”

Discontent over pandemic rules and virtual learning has prompted tens of thousands of parents to pull their children out of Michigan public schools, and many have stuck with the decision even as Covid-19 fades. …

Statewide, public school enrollment is down 3.7% from 2019-20. The declines were felt across the state, from urban districts to rural districts, from poor to wealthy. … Some of the school districts that stayed away for half of the 2020-2021 school year or more saw some of the largest declines, including Flint (19%), Oak Park (18%), Garden City (12 %) [and] Southfield (11%). …

For private schools, where tuition can range from $3,000 to $30,000 a year, the dramatic changes in enrollment have been a boon after more than a decade of declining enrollment that mirrored the falling rate of state birth rate.

The online publication cites the research of four academics, including Kevin Stange, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, who has studied student defection from public schools. “The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically disrupted the functioning of American public schools, potentially altering the relative attractiveness of alternatives such as homeschooling and private schools,” says their study, published last fall by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Our findings shed light on how families make school decisions and imply potential longer-term disruptions to public schools in the form of declining enrollment and funding, changing student body composition.

“Things have not returned to normal,” Professor Stange told Bridge.

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