How many students have returned to DC-area schools?

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

What to know about early enrollment counts at DC-area schools

What it is: Are students returning to school in person across the D.C. region?

It’s a question education officials are hoping to have answered this fall, as enrollment counts are finalized.

The coronavirus pandemic changed some parents’ decision-making processes with regard to how and where their kids attend school. Though most students had the option to return to the classroom by some point in 2021, some students remained at home, enrolling in virtual academies or delaying the start of pre-K or kindergarten as vaccines and therapeutics became more widely available.

In Virginia, for one, enrollment dropped for the second straight year in 2021.

The Virginia Department of Education reported that Fairfax County Public Schools saw a decrease of over 10,000 students enrolled between fall 2019 and fall 2021. That represents a 5.4% drop.

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Similarly, research group D.C. Policy Center conducted a study that projects a decline in enrollment in D.C. public and public charter schools in the coming years.

What it means: The number of students attending public schools directly impacts the school system’s budget.

Jennifer Wall, a school board member in Prince William County, Virginia, told me if enrollment numbers fluctuate greatly, the impact can be felt in schools.

Fewer students, she said, may mean a surplus of teachers or other staff, and in dramatic cases could cause a school to close.

Charles Pyle, a Virginia Department of Education spokesman, told me the state allocated funding in budgets for fiscal 2023 and fiscal 2024 to mitigate the impact of enrollment declines.

Official enrollment data isn’t finalized until later in the school year, but many D.C.-area counties have offered a preliminary look at the number of students attending classes.

Regional snapshot: Schools in Arlington, Virginia, reported a first-day enrollment of 27,524 students. That’s an increase of over 600 students compared to last fall’s official enrollment count.

Official enrollment there will be counted on Sept. 30.

In Loudoun County, the school system reported nearly 82,000 students in its Day 10 count. That’s an increase of over 670 students from last year’s Day 10 count, county officials said at a school board meeting this week.

In Fairfax County Public Schools, the state’s largest school system, over 179,000 students are enrolled as of Sept. 8. The county budgeted for 178,394 students.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, over 132,000 students are enrolled as of this week, a spokeswoman said.

In D.C., an annual count is completed Oct. 5, or the next business day. A final audited enrollment report will be released in late January or early February.

Talking points: Arlington superintendent Francisco Duran said the county is coming out of a period of enrollment growth: “In the decade prior to the pandemic, enrollment grew by about 40%, or about 10,000 students.”

Beverly Tate, Loudoun County’s director of planning and GIS services, said this week that “we are seeing a return.”

“Each grade has shown an increase from its prior grade from last year,” Tate said. “Kindergarten last year had 5,148 students on day 10, and this year as first graders, we have 5,740.”

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

More money: Over 800 school principals and other workers in D.C. are getting a pay increase, after Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a new agreement with the Council of School Officers on Wednesday.

It’s the group’s first new contract since 2020.

The deal includes a retroactive 2.5% pay raise for fiscal 2021, the same for fiscal 2022, a 3.5% pay increase for fiscal 2023 and a 4% increase for fiscal 2024.

The city and Washington Teachers’ Union, meanwhile, are in mediation over a new contract. The WTU said teachers haven’t received a raise in three years.

[Read more about the new agreement on]

What Scott’s Reading

  • Loudoun County School Board OKs new student discipline policy [WTOP]
  • Va. Board of Education delays vote on history, social studies standards [WTOP]
  • Anne Arundel Co. schools crack down on violence at games [WTOP]
  • Fauquier County School Board plans to revise policies around books containing ‘sexually explicit content’ [InsideNova]
  • How a school lockdown — even when there’s no gun — can terrify [Washington Post]
  • As Harvard makes amends for its ties to slavery, descendants ask, what is owed? [NYTimes]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

More football: Big weekend for both Miami and Maryland football. The Canes are playing at Texas A&M, and Maryland hosts SMU. I’ll be spending a lot of time on the couch.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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