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Pandemic affects school enrollment

By submitted, 11/21/20 8:01 AM

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas schools this fall have seen a drop in enrollment of about 6,428 students.

The good news is that the number of students in computer science courses is more than 10,000, which is a record high.

The number of children being home schooled has gone up by 3,888 compared to last year. The total number of children in Arkansas being home schooled this year is 26,039.

The total enrollment in Arkansas public schools this year is 473,004, based on a count done in October by state education officials and reported to the state Board of Education. This year’s enrollment is down more than 1 percent compared with October of 2019, when it was 479,432.

The change in enrollment from public schools to home schools can be attributed to parents’ concerns about the safety of their children during the coronavirus pandemic.

The younger the age group, the more remarkable is the increase in home schooling this year. For example, there has been a 72 percent increase in the number of kindergarten students being home schooled. For first graders the increase was more than 55 percent and for third graders the increase in home schooled children was more than 51 percent.

Public education is high among the priorities of the Arkansas legislature, and state aid provides more than half of local school district revenue. Funding is based on enrollment, so financial consequences follow any changes in the number of children in the classroom.

In the proposed budget for state government for next fiscal year, the general revenue fund would be about $5.8 billion. Of that amount, more than $2.5 billion would go into the state’s Public School Fund.

During the interim between legislation sessions, the Senate and House Education Committees work at length on the school funding formula, in order to recommend the amount that will adequately fund public schools. The Arkansas Constitution makes it the state’s duty to provide an equal and adequate education for all children, and the state has lost school funding lawsuits when it failed to do so.

The number of students in computer science classes rose by 6.5 percent over last year, according to the recent enrollment reports.

The Education Department reported that more girls than ever are taking at least one computer science class. The number of female students rose to 3,135, which is 28 percent more than last year and 1,300 percent more than in 2014, when 223 girls were enrolled in computer science classes.

When the legislature convenes in January, it will consider a bill that would require all students to pass a computer science class to graduate. It also would require all high schools to hire at least one certified computer science teacher.

Enrollment has been dramatically increasing since 2015, when the legislature approved Act 187 to require all Arkansas high schools to offer at least one computer science course. Since then, the state also has increased opportunities for teachers to become certified in computer sciences.

There were 274 teachers certified in computer science last year, compared to only six when Act 187 was passed.