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State education officials point to COVID-19 school closures as cause for lowest levels since 2011

COURTESY PHOTO: BETH CONYERS/PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Students at Rosa Parks Elementary School gather for a tamale party March 5, 2020, just a week before schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Oregon's education agency says school closures and distance learning are likely the reason for a dramatic decrease in student enrollment, statewide.Oregon saw a significant decline in the number of students enrolled in school this academic year.

According to data released by the Oregon Department of Education on Thursday, the state saw a 3.7% decline in student enrollment from the prior year, as of Oct. 1, 2020.

ODE noted 21,744 fewer students were enrolled in schools across Oregon, compared with the same time last year. State education officials attributed the decline to school closures caused by COVID-19.

"The transition to Comprehensive Distance Learning has presented significant challenges and some new opportunities," a news release from ODE states. "The Oregon Department of Education is committed to returning our students to in-person instruction as soon as this can be done safely. We anticipate enrollment will rebound once students resume in-person learning."

According to the data, 560,917 students were enrolled during the first month of the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. More than a quarter of the decline occurred in kindergarten, the state education agency noted, with more than 6,100 fewer kindergartners enrolled this year.

The state uses enrollment data to dictate how federal funding is distributed to schools and districts.

ODE said even with the decline, schools should see little to no impact on their funding.

"Although enrollment is a key factor in distributing school funding, the funding level is fixed and the funding distribution formula is flexible enough to accommodate this decline without significantly impacting dollars needed to support Oregon's students," the ODE news release said.

For Portland Public Schools, the decline from fall 2019 to fall 2020 was 3.4%. PPS logged 46,924 students in October 2020. David Douglas School District saw a 5.2% decline, while Parkrose School District registered a 3% drop in enrollment.

Tigard-Tualatin School District saw a 6% drop in student enrollment, while Beaverton saw a 4% drop and Hillsboro's enrollment dropped by 4.5%. Farther east, Gresham-Barlow School District saw a 2.4% decline while Centennial School District saw a 6.4% decrease in student enrollment. Corbett School District saw one of the steepest drops, with an 8.8% decrease.

According to the data, American Indian and Alaska Native students saw the largest decline in enrollment, at 6%. White students showed a 5.5% decline in enrollment.

The new enrollment numbers reverse an upward trend in enrollment statewide since 2015-16. In fact, according to archived records from ODE, the last time Oregon's public school enrollment dropped below 561,000 students was in 2011-12, when the state logged 560,946 students. Prior to that, 2005-6 was the last time enrollment was below 560,000.


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