Chronically Ignored Public School Problem Deserves Your Attention

Chronically Ignored Public School Problem Deserves Your Attention

are facing a problem that should be getting a lot more attention.

Enrollment is down more than 1.2 million since the pandemic began in 2020. And there are no signs those kids – and critically for public schools – the state and federal aid that follows them – are ever coming back.

As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg writes, this apparently permanent decline “should be causing an outcry.” And at minimum, the drop should tell educrats and politicians that:

…[t]oo many public schools are failing, parents are voting with their feet, and urgent and bold action is needed. Until now, however, the only governmental response has been to spend more money — too much of which has gone to everyone but our children.

Over the two-year period in which enrollment fell, the federal government spent an extra $190 billion on public schools to address the pandemic. But as is so often the case, little of that money made it into the classroom.

Where did the money go? A big chunk of it – upwards of $122 billion – hasn’t been spent at all. According to The Wall Street Journal, the way the government structured the extra money is part of the problem:

…short-term nature of the money has made it harder to use, school officials said, because any new staff may have to be laid off when the money expires. Workforce shortages and supply-chain issues have also posed challenges, officials said.

It’s the kind of problem that only government could create. But parents aren’t waiting for the government to sort it out. As Bloomberg writes, they are decamping for educational alternatives, including his newest causes, charter schools:

From 2020 to 2021, nearly 240,000 new students enrolled in charter schools, a 7% increase year over year. Many charter schools around the country have long waitlists, and no wonder. In states and cities with strong accountability laws, charters have a proven academic track record of outperforming district schools.

Another big winner? Homeschooling:

numbers this year dipped from last year’s all-time high, but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels, according to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press.

Families that may have turned to homeschooling as an alternative to hastily assembled remote learning plans have stuck with it — reasons include health concerns, disagreement with school policies and a desire to keep what has worked for their children.

In 18 states that shared data through the current school year, the number of homeschooling students increased by 63% in the 2020-2021 school year, then fell by only 17% in the 2021-2022 school year.

Traditional private schools also saw more interest and more enrollments. Will any of those changes stick? So far, the answer seems to be “yes.”

And as Mayor Mike said, that ought to keep public school administrators and local pols awake at night. As enrollments fade, so does the money. Something has to give:

Schools will have to adjust to dropping enrollments either by getting smaller or by getting better. You can’t lose the students and keep the teachers.

Agree or disagree with Mr. Bloomberg on other issues, but here, he’s absolutely right. How do public schools get better? That’s almost a rhetorical question. Competition, be it from charters, homeschoolers, private schools or other of a growing number of educational alternatives is one possible way to kickstart innovation.

But the spread of new approaches itself shows parents aren’t willing to wait for innovation to take root in public schools. As more and more parents take their kids out of public schools, the more rapidly the public complex comes toward a reckoning that’s bigger than questions of what books are in the library or how many doors are in the building.

Right now, it doesn’t look like the public education complex is ready – or even willing – to admit it has a numbers problem.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of American Liberty News.

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