East Grand Forks School District enrollment is down by 65 students since the beginning of the year, and Superintendent Mike Kolness said it's likely the pandemic has a lot to do with it. He is, however, optimistic the numbers will bounce back once life begins to resemble something more normal next school year.
At a recent school board meeting, he said the district's current enrollment is 1,873, the lowest it has been since 2018. At this time last year, there were about 1,920 students enrolled in East Grand Forks.
He said there's any number of reasons that could explain the decline. With districts adapting to the pandemic with alternate learning models, Kolness said many families opted to homeschool their children, or enroll them in online learning academies. He said he's seen a trend of some families moving out of the district, often to areas like the Twin Cities, for housing options and employment opportunities. Meanwhile, fewer families are moving into the district. And in neighboring districts, he said it's not unheard of for families to pull their kids out of school due to COVID mitigation efforts, such as face covering requirements.
"There are some districts that have been hit pretty hard with a loss of students due to the pandemic," Kolness said. "There could be a variety of reasons for that, but we were pretty fortunate to start the school year with our enrollment actually higher than we had anticipated. But over time here, we've lost a significant number of students."
School districts in northern Minnesota are not unique. According to state data, Minnesota charter schools have seen the greatest impact to their enrollment numbers, with a decline of 4.9% this year.
Other enrollment trends:
- School districts in the Twin Cities saw a 2.7% decrease.
- Districts in the Twin Cities' inner ring of suburbs saw a decrease of 1.6%.
- Districts in the outer ring of suburbs saw a decrease of 1.2%.
- Districts in Greater Minnesota with more than 2,000 students saw a decrease of 2.2%.
- Greater Minnesota districts with 1,000 to 2,000 students saw a 0.29% decrease.
- Districts in Greater Minnesota with fewer than 1,000 students saw a decrease of 0.99%.
There are a number of proposals in the Legislature that aim to address this problem, including a bill introduced during a special session last fall by House Education Finance Chairman Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, that would stabilize school budgets by allowing them to use 2019-2020 enrollment numbers to calculate their allotment of state aid.
Kolness doesn't consider East Grand Forks to be one of the hardest-hit districts – he counts the district as fortunate that its enrollment had been trending upward for three or four years before the pandemic. He said the district intends to analyze the financial impacts once they know final enrollment numbers at the end of the year.
"We hope that'll stabilize, but like I said, we just have to adjust our staff accordingly," he said. "It would be nice if we could see that enrollment continue to grow. It's nice to have that growth, because it provides more options for us as a district."