Wisconsin public school enrollments see biggest drop in decades in first count since COVID-19, adding to budget challenges

Annysa Johnson, Samantha West and Alec Johnson:

Enrollment in Wisconsin public schools fell by 3% this year, the largest dip in decades, and private schools that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers saw an increase, though not as much as last year.

In all, according to new data released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction, public schools enrolled 818,922 full-time equivalent students in the current school year, down more than 25,000 students, based on the headcount taken in late September. Private voucher schools added 2,577 students for a total of 45,954.

Because school funding is tied to enrollment, the shifts will be costly for many districts around the state at a time when they are spending millions more on expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic. In all, nearly a third of the state’s 421 public districts will see a decline in their state aid totaling more than $23 million this year, losses that will continue because schools are funded in part on a three-year rolling average.

“There will be significant, long-term structural effects on school districts’ finances,” said Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. 

K-12 Tax, Referendum and budget climate: Madison School District enrollment drops by more than 1,000 students

A substantial 2020 tax and spending increase referendum is on Madison school district voter ballots this fall.