Hawaii's public school enrollment decreased during the pandemic

Public school enrollment in Hawaii decreased during the pandemic, and the students who left don’t seem to be coming back, according to a new report.

The report released this week by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found Hawaii public schools saw enrollment drop by 4.75% from 2019 to 2022. Meanwhile, charter schools experienced a 1.85% enrollment increase.

“The first full school year of the pandemic was a turbulent time for public school enrollment,” wrote the authors “But what happened during the second school year of the pandemic? The quick answer is that enrollment numbers basically stayed put. It seems most of those who left their district schools in the prior school year didn’t return, even after schools reopened, in-person instruction resumed, and the nation settled into the reality that COVID is not something that will be going away quickly.”

A survey of over 5,000 parents by The Harris Poll in May 2022 found nearly 20% of families switched the type of school their child attended from March 2020 to May 2022, and 79% of parents said the pandemic made them more interested in how their child was being educated.

“The point is not simply that parents prefer one type of public school over another. The bigger takeaway is that we are experiencing a parent revolution, spurred by the pandemic, and likely here to stay. In communities across America, families are clamoring for something other than the school their children are zoned to attend,” the report said.

Nationally, 1.5 million fewer students enrolled in public schools during the pandemic and 240,000 of them moved to charter schools. Other parents opted for private schools or homeschooling.

Almost everywhere in the U.S., charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling grew while enrollment in public schools declined, according to the report. It found this to be true for Hispanic, Black, and white students.

“The data show that attempts at stifling parent demand will not force families to keep their children in schools they don’t want them to attend. It will just make them leave public education altogether. Indeed, during the pandemic, many parents who couldn’t get their child into a charter school or couldn’t afford private school tuition decided to try homeschooling instead. They refused to keep doing something that just wasn’t working, even if it meant trying to educate their children on their own,” the authors said.

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