Declining Enrollment in Wisconsin Schools

By Rhonda Foxx

MADISON (WKOW) – Public schools have experienced the largest drop in enrollment since World War II, and it’s in no small part thanks to the pandemic.

National public school enrollment dropped from 50.8 million students in 2019 to 49.4 million students in 2020, erasing more than a decade of growth, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

In Wisconsin, public school enrollment has also been on a steady decline since 2017, losing more than 25,000 students from 2019 to 2021. According to the Wisconsin of Department of Public Instruction, public schools lost almost 800 enrollments just in the last year.

A spokesperson for Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction said declining enrollment seems to be a national trend and the reasons vary from district to district.

However, some think the disruptions of the pandemic and school violence play a role in this nationwide enrollment decline. This is according to Jim Bender, with School Choice Wisconsin (SCW). SCW is a non-profit that works to empower parents by developing, supporting and promoting the ideas and policies that create quality options in K-12 education in the state.

“There’s been a real sense of frustration that parents don’t have a strong voice in their own child’s education,” Bender said. “Across the board, you know, for many families, its academics, or its safety,” Bender said.

A growing number of parents are opting for independent, private schools or even homeschooling like Midlikowski.

“We have technically five school-aged kids. We have seven total,” said Miriam Midlikowski, a homeschool parent.

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Miriam Midlikowski homeschools her five school-age kids and that they all enjoy the freedom homeschooling allows.

“We get a lot of time to be able to go on field trips when we want to. We can dive into different topics that the kids want to study. It just gives us a lot of movement that we can do. We’re not stuck with a certain curriculum,” Midlikowski said.

Additionally, Midlikowski said the personalized approach to schooling can really benefit her children’s learning instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of public instruction.

“There’s a lot of people in the public school system and that works for them and it’s all okay. Everybody has to kind of do what works for them,” Midlikowski said.

Daniel Henderson with Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools said he’s seen an increase of enrollments at their school since the pandemic.

He said more parents are turning to private or homeschooling because they want their kids in classrooms that match their values.

“They can adjust to the needs of parents and then they’re customizable there, in some ways, to fit the needs of those students,” Henderson said.



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