SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Enrollment at public schools in Utah has declined as the coronavirus pandemic pushes some parents to homeschool their children and make other decisions based on safety concerns.
The state has counted 665,790 students enrolled this fall, a decline of 2,150 students compared to the same time last year, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday.
The department says the deficit really amounts to about 9,000 students, since early projections had anticipated an increase of 7,000 students this fall.
"It's cause for real concern," Utah Board of Education Chair Mark Huntsman said in a special meeting Tuesday where the department reviewed the preliminary fall headcounts for K-12 grade levels.
Enrollment numbers dictate how much state funding districts receive, so the decline could mean public schools lose millions of dollars, Huntsman said.
Public school districts in the state were estimated to receive about $3,515, on average, for each student this year. The number fluctuates depending on whether students need additional resources.
With the decreased enrollment, public schools could lose at least $7 million. If calculated for the 9,000-student deficit, schools could lose $31 million.
"Schools in the state are forward funded, meaning they get their funding in advance based on growth so they're not running at a deficit," Board of Education spokesperson Mark Peterson said. "But it still means that next year, when these numbers are in the budget, some districts likely will be on notice."
Another official headcount is expected Oct. 1. That count will be used to calculate funding models for 2021.
The decline can largely be attributed to parents pulling their kids out of the district to do homeschooling, State Deputy Superintendent Scott Jones said, adding that there was uncertainty on if and when the districts would reopen as officials were debating safety measures intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The state found that about three times the usual number of students transferred to homeschooling, compared to the normal 800 who make the transition each year.
Another factor in the decline was private schools, officials said. More than 600 students transferred to private institutions. Some parents made the switch so their children could start school in person, something a lot of public schools were not offering at the time.
"It is a different situation than we have encountered in at least 100 years," Peterson said. "We actually haven't had a decrease in student enrollment since 2000. And then, that amounted to only about 700 students. We're used to having a growing student population."