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Nation's Public School Enrollment Dropped 3 Percent in 2020-21
June 28, 2021

Declines were the Largest Among Youngest Children

WASHINGTON (June 28, 2021)—The number of reported students attending public schools in the United States in 2020-2021 fell by 3 percent compared to the 2019-20 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics reported today based on preliminary data.

The enrollment of preschool and kindergarten children dropped by a higher percentage than enrollment of students from Grades 1 through 12, according to the data NCES collected from state education agencies. Preschool enrollment dropped by 22 percent, and enrollment of kindergarteners fell by 9 percent. The preliminary release for 2020-21 includes data from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories. Illinois was unable to meet the NCES deadline for submitting its data.

The enrollment numbers released today are a subset of the NCES Common Core of Data (CCD), an annual collection of data on enrollment, school finances, and student graduation rates. State education agencies (SEAs) provide the data to NCES each year.

“K-12 enrollment in our nation’s public schools has been slowly increasing almost every year since the start of this century,” said Ross Santy, NCES associate commissioner for administrative data. “Before this year, in the few recent years where we have seen enrollment decreases, they have been small changes representing less than 1 percent of total enrollment.”

For the 2019-20 school year (SY), the Common Core of Data reported that 51.1 million students attended preK-12 schools in the United States and other jurisdictions. NCES collected school enrollment numbers for the 2020-21 school year as of October 1, 2020. The data were submitted by states in spring 2021.

“I’m especially concerned about the steep drop in enrollment for children just getting started on their formal education – the Pre-K and kindergarten students,” said Mark Schneider, director of the Institute of Education Sciences. “Research shows that these early years are essential in helping students succeed academically and socially. While it is too soon to say which students were most affected; it is safe to assume that students who struggle the most may be the ones who really lost out.”

NCES acting commissioner Peggy Carr noted that, “The decreases were widespread and affected almost every single state and every region of the country. Some states saw enrollment declines by 4 to 5 percent. The data are preliminary but concerning. We need to confirm the data and see what more they can tell us about potentially large losses in learning opportunities.”

Between fall 2009 and fall 2018, total public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12 increased by 3 percent (from 49.4 million to 50.7 million students), according to the Common Core of Data.

Key findings from the preliminary 2020-21 CCD data include:

The SY 2019-20 and SY 2020-21 total counts for California, Oregon, American Samoa, and Bureau of Indian Education do not include Pre-Kindergarten counts.

This image displays Figure 1. Percentage change in public school enrollment between SY 2019-20 and SY 2020-21, by state or jurisdiction.

NCES plans to release the final national results in spring 2022. The final release will include enrollment levels for all states and territories, and it will report student counts by grade level, race, ethnicity, and sex.

The preliminary CCD enrollment data files include data for 49 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Bureau of Indian Education, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands.

The Preliminary CCD Data Files can be downloaded here https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/files.asp#Fiscal:2,SchoolYearId:35,Page:1.

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The National Center for Education Statistics, a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

The NCES Common Core of Data is the Department of Education's primary database on public elementary and secondary education in the United States. CCD is a comprehensive, annual, national database of all public elementary and secondary schools and school districts. It collects data annually and publishes datafiles with student enrollment, schools’ finances, graduation rates, and other vital data.

Contact: Josue DeLaRosa, NCES, ARIS.NCES@ed.gov, (202) 705 -6692 OR
James Elias, Hager Sharp, jelias@hagersharp.com, (202) 355-4417