With Some Parents Mad Over Issues from School Closures to Critical Race Theory, Leaders Fear Impact on Fall Enrollment

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By Linda Jacobson

Momentum may be building toward a full school reopening this fall, but some families say it’s too late.

“My daughter will never go back to public school,” said Michelle Walker of McMinnville, Oregon, outside Portland. She took out a loan to move her fourth-grader MacKenzie into a private school and is working to mobilize families in reopening groups across the country to do something similar.

Nationally, public schools lost 1.5 million students last school year — roughly a 3 percent drop and the largest since the beginning of the century, according to federal data. Much of that enrollment decline was driven by parents holding their kindergartners out a year. The question now is whether the profound frustration over remote learning and mask mandates, combined with recent outrage over critical race theory, could motivate more families to seek other options.

Experts say it’s too soon to know for sure whether enrollment loss will continue, but some see signs that the downward trend isn’t over.

In Virginia’s Arlington Public Schools, officials initially projected that the 2,000 students who left the district last school year would return this fall. But in May, board members said they weren’t so sure and were recalculating the budget based on a lower figure of 28,500 students, down from almost 30,000.

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