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Education

Student attendance down at Maryland public schools while enrollment numbers fall due to the pandemic

Student attendance has dropped at Maryland’s public schools this year as system leaders continue to grapple with enrollment losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maryland’s Board of Education on Tuesday reviewed enrollment and attendance trends for the 2021-22 academic year. Education officials estimate 28,000 students have left the state’s public schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which forced many school systems to deliver instruction virtually last year.

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Local education leaders have stretched employees and navigated staffing shortages while attempting to remain open to students — even as the rise of the omicron variant on the coronavirus shuttered individual schools. State education officials say that attendance has fallen and chronic absenteeism among some students is on the rise.

The percentage of enrolled students in grades 1-12 who attend school each day declined to 92.5%, down from 93.5% last year. Kindergarten and pre-K students are not included in the attendance rate.

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The data shows that the attendance rate of male students lagged behind that of their female counterparts.

African American and Hispanic students also attended school at lower rates than other races or ethnicities.

And students who came from economically disadvantaged or low-income households, or those who have disabilities or are English language learners, recorded lower attendance rates this year.

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Similar chronic absenteeism and declines in enrollment are happening elsewhere across the country, state education officials said. U.S. schools lost an estimated one million students in the 2020-21 school year, according to a recent report from EdWeek. Most of the enrollment dropped in early grades as parents held students out of school or moved them to private schools amid the pandemic.

Maryland collects public school enrollment data from jurisdictions once a year, typically on Sept. 30 in accordance with state law. The data are used to calculate various funding levels for local school systems. Last year, the state held systems “harmless,” meaning their revenue did not decrease because enrollment dropped across all grade levels.

This budget season, school systems likely will face reductions to some revenues that are calculated using per pupil funding formulas. But some funding priorities — such as those tied to students in low-income households — are expected to remain the same for school systems, said Lora Rakowski, a state education department spokeswoman.

Maryland public schools currently serve an estimated 881,000 students, which amounts to a 3% enrollment decrease since 2020. Enrollment previously had been projected to increase in those years before the pandemic upended trends.

Still, some grade levels increased enrollment this fall compared to the prior school year — pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and 9th grade. And in nearly all systems, students attended virtual programs at higher rates across all grade levels.

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Maryland private school enrollment, which increased by about 9,500 students in the fall of 2020, has since lost those gains. State data show private schools enrolled 11,445 fewer students in Sept. 2021 compared to the previous year.

By contrast, the number of Maryland homeschool students has spiked from 27,754 in 2020 to 42,632 in 2021.


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