Pandemic Enrollment Fallout: School District Enrollment Changes Across COVID-19 Response

By Nat Malkus, American Enterprise Institute

Key Points

  • The COVID-19 pandemic caused the largest enrollment declines in the history of American public schools.
  • School districts’ operations explain large differences in 2021–22 enrollments, as districts that spent more of 2020–21 in person saw enrollments rebound, while the districts that were remote longer saw more students leave.
  • Enrollment rebounds fell along partisan lines. In 2021–22, most districts that voted for Donald Trump rebounded, while enrollment continued to fall in districts that voted for Joe Biden.
  • Schools’ consequential operational decisions stemmed from communities’ cautious or asser­tive responses to the pandemic, and that broader COVID cultural response drove divergent enrollment changes.
  • Districts that spent more of 2020–21 remote face the largest enrollment declines and are more likely to see substantial revenue declines associated with them.

This excerpt originated from a story produced by American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world.