Public school enrollment in Massachusetts tumbled by 4% from October 2019 to October 2020, a decline that far exceeds the usual annual churn, according to figures presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday.
Russell Johnston of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the board that, as of Oct. 1, there were 911,432 students enrolled across the state's 400 school districts, a decline of more than 37,000 from the previous year.
In each of the previous two years, enrollment decreased by fewer than 3,000 students.
Almost half of this year's decline can be attributed to pre-K and kindergarten students, Johnston said.
While the number of students leaving for out-of-state public or private schools remained relatively stable compared to previous years, more students this year left for in-state private schools or home-schooling, he said.
In September, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said officials were hearing that some parents of kindergarteners were opting to keep their kids home for a year amid the disruptions to schooling, and some families were choosing to send children private or Catholic schools that offered in-person learning.
Enrollment numbers help determine how much funding a school district receives from the state.
Board Chair Katherine Craven noted that it won't be clear until November 2021, "assuming that there's a return to some sort of normalcy next year," how many of the students who left public school districts may re-enroll after this year and said she is "cautious about policy decisions that will be interpolated based upon the numbers that we're seeing."