Fairfax Co. sees largest drop in Va. public school enrollment

For the second straight year, enrollment in Virginia public schools has dropped, with 46,000 fewer students enrolled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, the largest school district in the commonwealth, Fairfax County, saw the largest enrollment dip — more than 10,000 students, or a 5.4% difference between fall 2019 and fall 2021.

The second-largest school district, Prince William County, had 2,135 fewer students enroll, or 2.3%. The third-largest district, Loudoun County, enrolled 2,422 fewer students this year, or 2.9%.

The steepest enrollment drop statewide was for preschool — down 8.6% from fall 2019, and kindergarten, which dipped 5.8%. Parents in Virginia have long had the option to delay enrolling their children in kindergarten for a year.

The number of home-schoolers, including students with religious exemptions, jumped dramatically  from more than 44,000 in 2019 to more than 65,000 in fall 2020. This year, with school systems offering in-person learning, the number has dipped to 61,873, which is still 40% higher than before the pandemic.

The Virginia Department of Education numbers don’t track private school admissions.

While school funding is generally based on enrollment, Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said the recent dips were expected given the pandemic, and aren’t financially hurting school divisions yet.

“The 2021 General Assembly provided divisions no-loss funding to ensure that no division lost funding in FY21 and FY22 as compared to the 2020-22 biennium due to enrollment dips in fall 2020,” Pyle said in an email to the Virginia Mercury.

He said the statewide funding that was potentially at risk totaled $164 million for the current fiscal year and $278 million for the previous year.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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