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Colorado schools missing 29,900 students as pandemic disrupts education

Fernanda Dominguez, 6, center, holds the hand of her mother Guadalupe Chavez, right, as Fernanda waits to be escorted to her classroom by faculty members on first day of school at Hodgkins Leadership Academy in Westminster on Thursday. Aug. 20, 2020.
Fernanda Dominguez, 6, center, holds the hand of her mother Guadalupe Chavez, right, as she waits to be escorted to her classroom at Hodgkins Leadership Academy in Westminster on the first day of school.
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

Colorado schools lost more than 29,900 students — a 3.3% decline — compared with the last school year, according to preliminary state data released Tuesday. The drop in enrollment means schools could see funding cuts and raises concerns about the well-being of children who haven’t been seen or heard from in months.

Colorado typically releases official enrollment data in January, but due to the high level of interest this year, the state education department decided to release initial numbers in December. The preliminary enrollment numbers come from Colorado’s October Count Day, when districts tally the students in attendance to determine official student counts. If students don’t come to school or log in on that day, districts can use other methods to prove students really do attend their schools.

Reflecting a trend seen nationally during the pandemic, the biggest drops came in the early grades, with kindergarten enrollment declining more than 9%. The drop comes just one year after Colorado made full-day kindergarten free to families, spurring a 24% increase in enrollment. While this decline doesn’t entirely undo last year’s gains, advocates worry that young children are missing out on critical early learning opportunities. Kindergarten is not mandatory in Colorado.

Total enrollment in preschool through 12th grade is 883,281, according to preliminary data. With education disrupted throughout the state, the declines occurred in districts that started the school year with students in classrooms and those where students mostly learned from home. Of Colorado’s 178 school districts, 141 reported enrollment declines.

The number of students being homeschooled doubled to 15,773, and a total of 32,321 students registered in online schools, a 44% increase from 2019. Colorado doesn’t track private school enrollment.

The last time Colorado as a whole saw a decrease in enrollment was 1988, at the tail end of years of economic trouble.

The count is high stakes because the figures are used to determine school funding. Districts that are losing enrollment can use an average from the last two to five years to ease the hit, but the declines this year are significant enough that districts would still feel the lost revenue.

Many superintendents have called for the state to use last year’s count for funding purposes. In a survey of district leaders earlier this fall, many said that students, unsatisfied with their other options, had returned to their home district after the October count. They said their districts were incurring costs to educate these students, and they needed a way to get reimbursed. Any change to how school funding is distributed would require the legislature to take action.

The 5,798 missing kindergartners and 13,802 students missing in first through fifth grade account for almost two-thirds of the enrollment decline. Eight thousand fewer 4-year-olds enrolled in public preschool, a 23% decline. School leaders and community advocates have been sounding the alarm about missing children for months. District administrators and family liaisons knocked on doors to locate them, and some districts even warned parents of the possibility of truancy charges.

Anecdotally, the reasons parents haven’t sent their children to school vary, from frustration with online and hybrid instruction to disagreement with mask requirements. Educators worry the most about children whose families may be in crisis and those who opted for online school due to fear of the coronavirus but don’t have adequate internet access or parental support to participate.

District 11 in Colorado Springs had the largest decrease at 8.2%. A spokeswoman for the district said the drop was largely the loss of kindergarten and other new enrollment that the district had expected before the pandemic, rather than students leaving the district in large numbers.

Other large districts that saw significant enrollment declines include: Douglas County (6.4%), Boulder Valley (5.6%), Aurora Public Schools (5.5%), Adams 12 Five Star Schools (5.2%), St. Vrain Valley, and Jefferson County (4.7% each). Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, saw a 3.3% decrease, the same as the state average.

The state saw differences in school enrollment based on race and ethnicity. Indigenous students reported the largest percentage decline, with 5.8% fewer students enrolling in school. White students were the next most likely to not be in school, with a reported 4.1% decrease. Enrollment among Black and Asian students declined 2.7%, while enrollment among Hispanic students declined 2.6%.

Colorado also saw declines in the number of students who are English learners, those with disabilities, and those who qualify for federally subsidized meals, despite widespread job losses and economic hardship. Some children in poverty may not be in school at all. Families also may not have filled out forms indicating they qualify for subsidized meals because they’re in remote school or because the federal government waived requirements to allow districts to serve more meals.

The declines raise concerns that students who benefit the most from being in school are leaving at higher rates or not being identified for help. School districts also get additional money to serve these students, so the declines could have budgetary consequences.

2020-21 Colorado school district enrollment changes

District Name 2019-2020 2020-2021 Percent Change
District Name 2019-2020 2020-2021 Percent Change
Mapleton 1 9,149 9,140 -0.10%
Adams 12 Five Star Schools 38,707 36,654 -5.23%
Adams County 14 6,610 6,066 -7.71%
School District 27J 19,248 19,188 -0.32%
Bennett 29J 1,117 1,175 5.25%
Strasburg 31J 1,080 1,072 -0.75%
Westminster Public Schools 9,090 8,373 -7.73%
Alamosa Re-11J 2,298 2,176 -5.23%
Sangre De Cristo Re-22J 285 240 -14.52%
Englewood 1 2,634 2,460 -6.61%
Sheridan 2 1,359 1,246 -7.96%
Cherry Creek 5 56,172 54,167 -3.59%
Littleton 6 14,988 14,132 -5.55%
Deer Trail 26J 253 254 0.48%
Aurora Public Schools 40,088 37,907 -5.47%
Byers 32J 2,344 5,359 103.40%
Archuleta County 50 Jt 1,742 1,599 -8.38%
Walsh Re-1 154 150 -2.27%
Pritchett Re-3 60 60 0.00%
Springfield Re-4 309 297 -3.81%
Vilas Re-5 103 208 238.64%
Campo Re-6 42 51 19.57%
Las Animas Re-1 2,406 2,305 -4.37%
Mc Clave Re-2 229 214 -5.77%
St Vrain Valley Re 1J 32,855 31,312 -4.73%
Boulder Valley Re 2 31,000 29,240 -5.65%
Buena Vista R-31 1,077 962 -10.56%
Salida R-32 1,331 1,244 -6.88%
Kit Carson R-1 109 97 -11.11%
Cheyenne County Re-5 197 173 -13.19%
Clear Creek Re-1 717 682 -4.61%
North Conejos Re-1J 1,067 991 -7.41%
Sanford 6J 353 358 1.40%
South Conejos Re-10 150 156 3.59%
Centennial R-1 219 224 2.30%
Sierra Grande R-30 269 261 -2.73%
Crowley County Re-1-J 425 395 -6.86%
Custer County School District C-1 395 343 -13.37%
Delta County 50(J) 5,032 4,793 -4.78%
Denver County 1 92,112 89,061 -3.32%
Dolores County Re No.2 232 231 -0.42%
Douglas County Re 1 67,305 62,979 -6.40%
Eagle County Re 50 6,812 6,699 -1.64%
Elizabeth C-1 2,373 2,213 -6.66%
Kiowa C-2 252 257 1.93%
Big Sandy 100J 335 298 -11.53%
Elbert 200 254 270 6.56%
Agate 300 44 73 61.70%
Calhan Rj-1 471 453 -3.85%
Harrison 2 11,518 11,177 -2.91%
Widefield 3 9,669 9,169 -5.21%
Fountain 8 8,529 8,227 -3.64%
Colorado Springs 11 26,040 23,885 -8.16%
Cheyenne Mountain 12 5,309 5,243 -1.25%
Manitou Springs 14 1,441 1,345 -6.43%
Academy 20 26,603 25,711 -3.41%
Ellicott 22 1,142 1,021 -10.84%
Peyton 23 Jt 626 611 -2.53%
Hanover 28 258 263 2.02%
Lewis-Palmer 38 6,756 6,494 -3.80%
District 49 (Prev. Falcon District 49) 23,890 23,984 0.42%
Edison 54 Jt 243 191 -22.41%
Miami/Yoder 60 Jt 288 249 -12.79%
Canon City Re-1 3,482 3,275 -5.91%
Fremont Re-2 1,398 1,368 -2.24%
Cotopaxi Re-3 229 187 -19.00%
Roaring Fork Re-1 5,647 5,292 -6.24%
Garfield Re-2 4,802 4,526 -5.76%
Garfield 16 1,341 1,159 -14.53%
Gilpin County Re-1 498 429 -14.20%
West Grand 1-Jt. 434 399 -8.58%
East Grand 2 1,354 1,271 -6.11%
Gunnison Watershed Re1J 2,111 2,074 -1.78%
Hinsdale County Re 1 87 65 -27.50%
Huerfano Re-1 541 542 0.19%
La Veta Re-2 212 206 -2.79%
North Park R-1 179 158 -11.41%
Jefferson County R-1 84,048 80,088 -4.68%
Eads Re-1 203 215 5.77%
Plainview Re-2 57 44 -24.07%
Arriba-Flagler C-20 152 155 1.89%
Hi-Plains R-23 130 151 15.79%
Stratton R-4 239 223 -6.58%
Bethune R-5 118 105 -12.38%
Burlington Re-6J 778 747 -3.93%
Lake County R-1 1,102 998 -9.62%
Durango 9-R 5,545 6,931 25.58%
Bayfield 10 Jt-R 1,363 1,314 -3.57%
Ignacio 11 Jt 725 659 -9.04%
Poudre R-1 30,754 29,417 -4.39%
Thompson R2-J 16,163 14,963 -7.42%
Estes Park R-3 1,151 1,021 -11.51%
Trinidad 1 881 774 -11.42%
Primero Reorganized 2 200 221 11.29%
Hoehne Reorganized 3 365 330 -9.43%
Aguilar Reorganized 6 121 100 -18.10%
Branson Reorganized 82 431 594 34.83%
Kim Reorganized 88 48 44 -8.70%
Genoa-Hugo C113 220 222 0.93%
Limon Re-4J 450 431 -4.05%
Karval Re-23 55 50 -11.11%
Valley Re-1 2,258 2,104 -6.69%
Frenchman Re-3 207 193 -6.93%
Buffalo Re-4J 302 308 1.98%
Plateau Re-5 165 155 -5.88%
De Beque 49Jt 164 171 3.80%
Plateau Valley 50 394 355 -8.82%
Mesa County Valley 51 22,046 21,081 -4.37%
Creede School District 81 81 0.00%
Moffat County Re:No 1 2,202 2,068 -5.81%
Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 2,779 2,607 -6.19%
Dolores Re-4A 692 669 -3.20%
Mancos Re-6 507 465 -8.45%
Montrose County Re-1J 6,215 5,836 -6.16%
West End Re-2 272 266 -2.11%
Brush Re-2(J) 1,429 1,329 -6.77%
Fort Morgan Re-3 3,473 3,339 -3.97%
Weldon Valley Re-20(J) 214 213 -0.47%
Wiggins Re-50(J) 715 744 4.33%
East Otero R-1 1,422 1,378 -3.14%
Rocky Ford R-2 743 719 -3.14%
Manzanola 3J 169 167 -1.42%
Fowler R-4J 359 368 2.33%
Cheraw 31 224 219 -2.22%
Swink 33 321 313 -2.33%
Ouray R-1 170 187 9.44%
Ridgway R-2 354 334 -5.56%
Platte Canyon 1 889 763 -13.74%
Park County Re-2 687 615 -10.39%
Holyoke Re-1J 587 584 -0.52%
Haxtun Re-2J 345 340 -1.40%
Aspen 1 1,653 1,594 -3.53%
Granada Re-1 197 189 -3.85%
Lamar Re-2 1,588 1,539 -3.08%
Holly Re-3 304 278 -8.44%
Wiley Re-13 Jt 238 263 10.55%
Pueblo City 60 16,050 15,205 -5.15%
Pueblo County 70 10,555 10,320 -2.34%
Meeker Re1 760 681 -10.42%
Rangely Re-4 518 493 -4.91%
Del Norte C-7 421 380 -9.95%
Monte Vista C-8 1,168 1,164 -0.35%
Sargent Re-33J 354 330 -6.92%
Hayden Re-1 420 384 -8.28%
Steamboat Springs Re-2 2,653 2,567 -3.22%
South Routt Re 3 325 307 -5.20%
Mountain Valley Re 1 170 173 2.19%
Moffat 2 227 227 0.00%
Center 26 Jt 606 595 -1.72%
Silverton 1 81 83 2.90%
Telluride R-1 885 867 -1.98%
Norwood R-2J 199 181 -8.87%
Julesburg Re-1 829 1,021 35.04%
Revere School District (Prev. Platte Valley Re-3) 139 123 -11.76%
Summit Re-1 3,582 3,454 -3.58%
Cripple Creek-Victor Re-1 367 336 -8.33%
Woodland Park Re-2 2,284 2,055 -9.62%
Akron R-1 371 392 5.54%
Arickaree R-2 114 98 -13.68%
Otis R-3 216 224 3.52%
Lone Star 101 130 141 9.09%
Woodlin R-104 85 78 -6.48%
Weld County Re-1 1,953 1,887 -3.39%
Eaton Re-2 1,968 1,942 -1.36%
Weld County School District Re-3J (Prev. Keenesburg Re-3(J) ) 2,697 2,569 -5.02%
Windsor Re-4 7,313 7,477 2.42%
Johnstown-Milliken Re-5J 3,969 3,738 -5.80%
Greeley 6 22,467 21,883 -2.60%
Platte Valley Re-7 1,093 1,030 -5.77%
Weld County S/D Re-8 2,452 2,236 -8.61%
Ault-Highland Re-9 943 901 -4.49%
Briggsdale Re-10 184 175 -4.97%
Prairie Re-11 222 211 -5.45%
Pawnee Re-12 82 61 -26.25%
Yuma 1 903 906 0.35%
Wray Rd-2 759 747 -1.64%
Idalia Rj-3 200 197 -1.47%
Liberty J-4 68 65 -4.62%
Charter School Institute 18,275 20,749 13.54%
Colorado School For The Deaf And Blind 189 162 -12.74%
Mountain Boces 0 0 N/A
Centennial Boces 139 125 -9.86%
San Juan Boces 61 74 26.00%
Northwest Colo Boces 0 0 N/A
Expeditionary Boces 368 388 5.28%
Education Reenvisioned Boces (Prev. Colorado Digital Boces) 2,836 5,210 95.92%
Colorado River Boces 168 132 -29.03%
Colorado Detention Center 261 127 -46.53%
913,223 883,281 -3.28%
Numbers are preliminary and subject to change. Source: Colorado Department of Education

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