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Indiana's Student Count Declines During Pandemic

Indiana Public Broadcasting

A clearer understanding of the pandemic’s impact on Indiana’s public schools is starting to take shape.

New data from the Indiana Department of Education shows the number of students attending traditional public or charter schools fell by nearly 15,000 students, or about 1.5 percent compared to last fall.

The decline is based on the number of students attending a school on Sept. 18, a one-day count known as average daily membership, or ADM. The number from the count is used to calculate the funding a school district or charter school receives from the state. Another count held in February also contributes to a school’s funding level.

Enrollment data for Indiana’s schools -- the number of students enrolled in a public or state accredited school -- will be released soon.

An Indiana Department of Education spokesperson said about half of the nearly 15,000-student decline is likely from families delaying enrollment for kindergarteners due to the pandemic. In Indiana students are not required to attend kindergarten. The other half is a combination of families deciding to homeschool their children instead of attending a public school or enrolling them in a non-public school.

“As a state with options for how students can receive their education, our focus lies in ensuring they continue to,” spokesperson Adam Baker said.

Data on exactly how many fewer kindergarteners are attending Indiana's schools is yet to be released. 

Other states report similar declines. In Washington, a nearly 3 percent decrease in statewide enrollment was driven by a 14 percent drop in kindergarteners. NPR found a 16 percent average decline of kindergarten enrollment, out of more than 60 school districts across the country. 

In Indiana, the ADM count shows around 270 traditional public school districts and individual charter schools, from all corners of the state, reported a decline in overall students. The report measures 371 schools, including some schools that closed in the summer or opened this fall.

The highest percentage of students lost by a school corporation was counted at Manchester Community Schools in Wabash County and Griffith Public Schools in Lake County, both declined by 11 percent.

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders said the decline of nearly 4 percent of students, across its network of neighborhood, magnet and charter schools, could result in a shortfall of $15 million for its current budget. Fewer kindergartners and other younger students are likely the cause, they said.

Some schools did gain students. The online charter school Indiana Connections Academy saw a surge of nearly 40 percent or around 2,070 students -- from 4,883 students to 6,702, based on the one-day count. 

Paramount School of Excellence II in Indianapolis, a K-8 charter school, reported a 77 percent increase or 101 new students -- from 131 students to 232 students .

This fall’s decline in the ADM count is not new. It’s decreased annually since 2017 when it was at 1,030,851 students.

In the following two years, the count decreased by .26 percent and .42 percent respectively. During the pandemic, the decrease was far steeper at 1.5 percent difference between 2019 and this fall.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.