Central Virginia public school districts face declining enrollment and potential funding losses due to pandemic

Central Virginia public school districts face declining enrollment and potential funding losses due to pandemic

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - With schools relying on virtual or hybrid learning this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues, many districts across central Virginia are seeing drops in enrollment. If that trend holds through the spring, it could have serious financial impacts.

“About 50% of our funding comes from the state," Fluvanna County Public Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brenda Gilliam says. "So enrollment drives a good portion of that funding.”

Districts across central Virginia have closed their doors physically to open Zoom windows instead. That has led to declining enrollment as parents look for other options due to the uncertainty.

Gilliam says the county was expecting a decrease in enrollment due to a large graduating class last year. However, the drop has exceeded their fears and projections.

“A decrease of enrollment is of concern to us,” Gilliam explained. "Of course, our primary concern is that we’re accounting for all the students that we were anticipating coming in.”

In 2018 and 2019, Fluvanna County had 3,444 students enrolled. In 2020 so far, the county has dropped to just 3,265.

Charlottesville City Schools has seen a similar decline. In 2019, it had 4,353 students, up from 4,335 in 2018. In 2020, it has just 4,089.

Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) is also seeing a marked decrease. ACPS jumped from 13,700 students in 2018 to 14,032 in 2019, only to come crashing back down to 13,315 due to the pandemic.

“While we were 700 less than we were last year, we are 900 less than what we were anticipating and budgeting for this school year,” ACPS Chief Operating Officer Rosalyn Schmitt said.

Meanwhile, Louisa County Public Schools, one of the few districts to reopen for in-person learning in central Virginia, is seeing an increase. They have gone from 4,906 students in 2018 to 5,011 students in 2020. However, LCPS is seeing declining elementary school enrollment this year, something which echoed across the region.

“Typically, we have about 200 kindergartners, 220,” Gilliam explained. "This year, we have about 166. So, that’s where our biggest decrease is.”

There’s big money on the line: low enrollment now could lead to less funding later.

The amount varies by district, but the Virginia Department of Education sends thousands in funding to each school district per year. That is calculated by the average number of students in school in both September and March.

“With a small county like ours, it can have a big impact and not one that you can immediately remedy as well,” Gilliam explained.

Several school districts expressed hope that Virginia legislators will be able to pass legislation to hold the districts harmless for potential lost funding caused by pandemic depressed enrollment rates.

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