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Overall School Enrollment Increases As Does The Need to Continue Investing in Students and Schools

LANSING – Overall public school enrollment in Michigan has rebounded slightly post-pandemic while state school funding has taken strong steps forward yet still lags on several levels, according to presentations to the State Board of Education today.

“These are important measuring sticks to gauge the overall support of public education in Michigan,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “Students are returning to their public schools, and we need to continue to invest more in our students and educators.”

Following a 4.1% dip in public school enrollment during the 2020-21 pandemic school year, the number of students enrolled in Michigan’s public schools was less severe this school year, reported Tom Howell, director of the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI).

The largest resurgence was in the enrollment of kindergarten students and the return of students who were reported as homeschooled last year.

Kindergarten enrollment in Michigan public schools dropped from 120,133 in fall of 2019 to 106,539 in fall of 2020. This year, kindergarten enrollment has climbed to 114,744. Pre-kindergarten enrollment also declined during the 2020-21 pandemic year, dropping from 47,614 in 2019-20 to 31,853 last year. This year, 43,470 children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs.

The number of reported students to have left public school to be homeschooled jumped from a pre-pandemic average of around 1,500 per year to 13,233 in fall of 2020. This year, the number of students reported to have exited their public schools for homeschooling is 4,583.

Enrollment declines overall in Michigan mirror the demographic decline of children 5-12 years old over the past decade, Howell reported. For more than a decade, broad demographic trends were mirrored in enrollment, which was gradually falling, on average, 0.8% each year.

“The drop in enrollment during the first year of the pandemic is beginning to reverse course, but it has not evenly returned to a pre-pandemic level for all groups of students,” Howell said. “The brightest spot is the significant increases seen in pre-K and kindergarten, which had experienced the largest declines in fall 2020. It is too early to suggest a pattern has emerged, but we are eager to see how enrollment figures move as the pandemic winds down.”

After a sustained and difficult period of retrenchment, funding for Michigan’s public schools is on the upswing in recent years, Dr. David Arsen, professor of Education Policy and Educational Administration in Michigan State University’s College of Education shared with the State Board of Education today.

“State policymakers have increased base funding for all students, provided additional support for high-need students, and expanded early childhood education,” Dr. Arsen said. “We haven’t fully made up lost ground yet, but we’re taking strong steps to establish more equitable and adequate funding.

“As we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, the 2023 budget presents an excellent opportunity to strengthen the opportunities and supports that all Michigan schoolchildren deserve,” Dr. Arsen noted.

There are still significant disparities across the state in the funding for special education services for children and funding to upgrade public school facilities, Dr. Arsen said.

In her 2022-23 executive budget recommendation, Governor Gretchen Whitmer called for a multi-billion total increase in education funding. Among the many factors that make up the global increase are $2.3 billion for teacher recruitment and retention; a $1 billion school infrastructure modernization fund to be spread over six years that would permit significant building improvement projects including those associated with air and water quality, especially in districts with lower local taxable values that struggle or are unable to support these projects; a 5% increase in the per pupil foundation allowance; and increases in the funding for children with special needs, economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, career and technical education (CTE) students, and students in rural and isolated districts.

The governor’s budget proposal also includes $361 million for children’s mental health needs. The State Board of Education adopted a resolution in strong support of the governor’s budget at its March meeting.