Public school enrollment has consistently declined across most states this academic year, and there are new signs that the trend will continue this fall. On Thursday, New York City's education department reported that kindergarten applications for the 2021/2022 school year dropped 12 percent, from 63,000 to under 55,500 applications.
Overall New York City kindergarten enrollment was down 9 percent this year and down 4 percent districtwide. Nationwide, an NPR poll found that public school kindergarten enrollment was down an average of 16 percent this academic year, and public pre-kindergarten enrollment fell substantially as well.
The further drop in fall public kindergarten enrollment applications in New York City suggests that this is more than a temporary pandemic response. Parents may be indefinitely pulling their kids from public schools, at least in some large districts where a return to full-time, in-person schooling has been elusive.
Headlines have emerged to suggest that parents choosing not to enroll their children in public pre-kindergarten or kindergarten programs this year and next are endangering their children's academic outlook.
"These drops raise serious concerns for children's early learning," researchers wrote at the Brookings Institution in February. "These early-grade enrollment drops are troubling given the importance of early learning experiences for children's school readiness."
Calling the young children who are not currently enrolled in public schools "missing children," the Brookings writers advocate for taxpayer-funded summer programming and heavy investments in public schooling to "assess the wide-ranging developmental needs of children and to target a host of needed supports" resulting from delayed or disrupted early schooling.