Wichita Public Schools among districts addressing statewide drop in enrollment

Wichita Public Schools among districts addressing statewide drop in enrollment
Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 5:32 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Kansas schools are on the verge of closing out what has been a long and exhausting school year for many. Currently, districts are trying to get started on the fall semester, planning how to address an issue with enrollment created during the pandemic. State data shows that Kansas public and private schools had more than a 3 percent drop in enrollment this school year compared to last.

The biggest impact from that decrease in enrollment has been at elementary schools, specifically with children just starting school. That’s become much of the focus for school districts like Wichita Public Schools when looking at enrollment in the fall.

As students across Kansas eagerly count down the days until summer break, districts already are preparing to welcome the Class of 2034.

“All of the districts in our area, all the private schools in our area are all reaching out to families this time of year to help get them started with that enrollment process for kindergarten, preschool and Pre-K” said Wichita Public Schools Strategic Partnerships and Marketing Supervisor Suzy Finn.

Districts including Wichita Public Schools are doing more outreach this year following last fall’s enrollment decline. That largest decrease was in Pre-K and kindergarten.

“Outreach with the daycares. We have two enrollment specialists that are also helping specifically with that outreach,” Finn said. “(They) will really help that audience know what we have to offer sooner.”

Statewide, Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) data shows a more-than 16,000 student decrease for 2021, compared to the previous school year, again concentrated in pre-school and early elementary. It’s a similar situation in Wichita with about 2,400 fewer students enrolled, an approximate 4 percent drop from the previous school year.

“How do we get the information out there so that families know what to expect and to help answer some of those questions, particularly for those who may have held their kids back?” Finn said of the issue the district is working to tackle.

The state department of education said other reasons for the enrollment decline include changes in learning formats.

“We saw an increase in some virtual, so I think a lot of families, due to the unknown of the pandemic, chose to keep their kids at home,” KSDE Deputy Commissioner Dr. Brad Neuenswander said.

Part of why this is more difficult is that when fewer Pre-K children are enrolled, that’s fewer names and faces for teachers and administrators to know.

“It would have been a first-time student enrollee and they don’t know who they are, they just know that their numbers were down considerably,” Dr. Neuenswander said. “So they’re trying to make efforts to get out into the community.”

On May 4, Wichita Public Schools is hosting an informational night for families, walking them through the next steps in enrollment and what to expect in the fall.

Finn said parents of students who will be entering kindergarten can take this time to prepare.

“If they’ve got a student going into kindergarten or first grade, just really helping them think about their social skills, making sure that they know how to share, how to tie their shoes, button and zip a coat. All those simple motor skills that are important to work on before they get into kindergarten,” said Finn.

KSDE said schools can also use federal pandemic relief money to help with the effort. The most recent package, the American Rescue Plan, passed last month, It provides about $830 million to Kansas K-12 schools, most of which is distributed based on the school aid formula.

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