New Jersey Public School Enrollment Takes a Hit: COVID-19 Restrictions or Birthrate?

According to recently released data from the New Jersey Department of Education, over the last two years enrollment in the state’s K-12 public school system has dropped by about 18,000 students. While enrollment in private schools decreased 5% during the pandemic, public charter schools increased their enrollment almost 6%, from 55,604 in October 2019 to 58,777 last October 2021.

There is considerable variation district to district. For instance, over the last two years Newark, Trenton, and Plainfield have seen increases in student population but Montclair, Toms River, and Lakewood saw decreases. Currently, says the DOE, 1,302,139 students are enrolled in the state’s 600 districts, compared to 1,320,225 in 2019. According to the NJ Monitor, the 2019-2021 1.4% drop in enrollment is a substantial decrease from the 0.02% drop during the previous two-year period.

One result: last week in Montclair the superintendent announced that 83 staff members may be laiid off.

There is no concensus on why enrollment has dropped. Danielle Farrie of  Education Law Center suggests the pandemic “massively disrupted two school years and likely drove” parents’ decisions to send their children to private or public charter schools that remained open.” But New Jersey Education Association spokesman Steve Baker said, “It seems like a pretty politically convenient interpretation that might be ignoring a much more obvious underlying cause. What if there are just fewer school-aged kids each year?” (Note: New Jersey’s birth rates have been steady, except for a slight drop in 2019-2020, which wouldn’t affect current enrollment rates. However, out-migration—people moving out of NJ–has increased.)

The Monitor quotes Brooke Rigilano and her husband, who live in Runnemede with their five children and took them out of the public district due to a combination of masking and remote instruction and started homeschooling them.

We never thought about homeschooling prior to the pandemic. And when we started homeschooling, we thought: ‘When everything settles down and goes back to normal, we can send them back.’ But everything is not going back to normal. Schools have adjusted everything. Because of the lack of learning during the pandemic, everyone’s behind. Instead of helping the kids catch up, I feel like they’re lowering the standards.



Staff Writer

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