KALAMAZOO, MI — Enrollment at Kalamazoo Public Schools fell about 5% during the pandemic.
Districts across the state have reported falling student populations since the pandemic forced schools into virtual learning. KPS is one of the last large districts in Michigan to remain in fully virtual mode through the remainder of the school year.
Gary Start, deputy superintendent of business and finance, said KPS lost about 5%, or 690 students, from fall 2019 to fall 2020.
In fall 2019, the district enrolled 12,848 students. In the fall of 2020, 12,158 students were enrolled in the district, Start said.
The drop is enrollment at KPS is “not at all unusual in the state” and “expected in light of the pandemic,” he said.
“Obviously this has been a difficult year in many, many ways,” Start said. “It’s not apples to apples because its pre-pandemic to now.”
Across the state, about 53,000 students are missing from schools, Start said. Some parents held their kindergarten-aged students home for the year, while others chose to homeschool their children of all ages, he said.
The district does not have enrollment data yet from the spring count day, Start said.
The loss of enrollment will cost the district more than $1 million in per-pupil funding from the state of Michigan, he said.
Related: COVID-19 pandemic cuts Grand Rapids schools enrollment by more than 800 students
Start said he completely expects the district’s enrollment to bounce back once school resumes in the fall. Of the nearly 700 students missing from the district, about 22%, or 155 students, are missing from this year’s kindergarten class.
“I fully expect next year’s kindergarten class to be the largest kindergarten class of my career,” Start said.
Many KPS parents are fighting to get their children back into the classroom. Others have taken to social media to express their frustration with virtual school and said they are moving their children out of the district.
The Kalamazoo Promise, a college scholarship program that funds up to full-tuition for students, has eligibility requirements, including that students both live and attend within the district.
Michele Richards, a former KPS parent, said she moved her child out of the district for in-person instruction despite the loss of the scholarship. Her youngest child, a first-grade student with autism, struggled immensely with virtual learning, and Richards said the family will not move back into the district until it returns to in-person.
Her oldest children benefitted from The Kalamazoo Promise and it was a tough decision on whether to move her youngest — therefore forfeiting free college tuition.
“We deliberated for the entire summer, knowing the extraordinary value of The Promise that benefitted our two grown children,” Richards said. “Even knowing that, the agony and loss of learning over the spring simply couldn’t be repeated; so we left.”
Superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri has assured parents on multiple occasions that school will resume in-person full-time by fall 2021.
“I am giving the community my personal guarantee that all KPS schools will offer five days of in-person instruction in the fall of 2021,” Raichoudhuri said. “I want to make sure this is heard and understood to put to rest any anxiety, fears or concerns about next year.”
Even with the pandemic-induced enrollment decline, the district is still nearly 2,000 students above where they were when the Promise was announced, he said.
“KPS is an excellent school district, and we have the Kalamazoo Promise,” Start said.
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