Full-time equivalent enrollment is still about 10,000 students lower than pre-pandemic levels, but state and local funding is $840 million higher. Achievement continues to decline while some education officials seem primarily focused on keeping masks on kids. Such is the state of education in Kansas.
Some of the students who left during the first year that schools restricted in-person learning returned this year, with FTE enrollment now at 466,639.
Deputy Education Commissioner Craig Neuenswander told the Topeka Capital-Journal that a cause of the decrease is hard to pinpoint: “Obviously, we’re still in the midst of COVID, and I’m sure that has something to do with it,” Neuenswander said. “I’m sure others might have picked a different option a year ago and decided, ‘Maybe this isn’t so bad.'”
Mark Tallman, associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, says demographic research makes it hard to blame school boards’ COVID-19 decisions, such as masking requirements, for the decline in enrollment.
Parents extremely frustrated
Education officials seem flummoxed by the enrollment decline, but not parents. After months of being ignored by local school boards, they’ve taken their complaints on objectionable subject material and COVID-driven restrictions on in-person learning to state legislators.
A public opinion poll commissioned by the Sentinel’s owner, Kansas Policy Institute, bears out their extreme frustration. Parents believe they should have the primary say over how their children are educated, with 88% strongly or somewhat agreeing and only 11% expressing some measure of disagreement.
The majority — 57% — are concerned that their children and grandchildren may be exposed to objectionable subject material, and 75% believe taxpayer-funded accounts should be available to parents if their school district isn’t meeting the academic needs of their children.
Poll participants were registered voters who are parents or grandparents of children in Kansas public schools.