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STUDENT ENROLLMENT: Public and private schools see different trends amid pandemic

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX47) — While some school districts are returning to full in-person learning soon or have already, others like Rochester Public Schools (RPS) are not letting middle and high school students back in person until April. That’s the plan for now anyway.

How students should learn in the middle of a pandemic continues to be a tough topic.

Frustrated, some families are taking their students out of RPS by going private or even to other districts.

Rochester Public Schools Executive Director of Finance John Carlson

Rochester Public Schools Executive Director of Finance John Carlson said this trend is something he hasn’t seen before.

“This fall we lost about 660 students who left the district,” Carlson said. “In my 10 years with the school district we have grown every single year, so we have not gone backwards in numbers in the last decade.”

RPS had been expecting growth over the next five years, but a drop in enrollment impacts state funding that may lead to difficult cuts in the future.

“We will have about five to six million dollars less in revenue than what we were planning for,” Carlson said.

For now, federal funds from the federal stimulus dollars will provide about $12 million.

“We think that we should be able to get through the next school year without making budget reductions,” Carlson said. “It’s next school year after that the fall of 2022 that we expect we will have to make some adjustments to our budget.”

Carlson said about half of the lost students moved out of the district.

RPS Prioritize our children’ Facebook group have put up these billboards

Frustrated with the district’s decisions, parents in the ‘RPS Prioritize our children’ Facebook group have put up billboards around town saying ‘Get kids in school now.’

Meanwhile, 13% of former RPS families said they were going to a private school.

Rochester Catholic Schools Board of Trustees Co-chair John Wald

“I would say over the last month or so we’ve seen an influx of at least 30 to 40 new students into the Rochester Catholic Schools,” Rochester Catholic Schools (RCS) Board of Trustees Co-chair John Wald said.

Wald said this is due to families’ desire to remain in a face-to-face learning environment.

“Our face-to-face learning allows those families to continue to the work they need to support their children while we are supporting them in a healthy, safe academic environment,” Wald said.

He adds RCS went to a hybrid learning model briefly due to a spike in community spread, but RCS has not seen spread through its classrooms. So, it sticks to in-person learning as much as possible.

“We have seen the stress even within our own system that hybrid learning puts on our teacher and our students,” Wald said.

RPS says although enrollment is the lowest its been in five years, it believes enrollment will increase in the years to come.

Ubah Ali

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