Schools see decline in enrollment as state says districts are responsible for school start plans

The two largest school districts in the state say students are moving to correspondence programs
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 9:33 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the start of the school year approaches, school districts will be the entity in charge of what classes look like, not the state, officials said at a press conference Tuesday.

Local governments are able to make their own rules for schools based on community cases, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday. At the meeting, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink provided data for school districts to consider for the upcoming school year.

In Alaska, 14.3% of total cases have been in kids, Zink said. While the rates of kids being hospitalized are very low, data in Zink’s presentation estimates one in four teachers are at a high risk for experiencing a serious illness with COVID.

“It’s pretty clear that kids do much better if they get COVID compared to adults,” Zink said Tuesday.

While there are safety considerations for in-person classes, Zink said there are risks for a child’s development if they don’t have in-person classes. The loss of social interaction and possible lack of access to technology or meal programs is another factor school districts should consider, Zink said.

The two largest school districts in the state of Alaska have diverging approaches to school start. The Mat-Su Borough School District announced 6-12 grades would have three classes a week, alternating on a two-week schedule with four days in-person.

The Anchorage School District has moved entirely to an online model with eLearning occurring five days a week.

Both districts are seeing changes in normal enrollment. MSBSD says a little under 8,000 students are registered for in-person school since July 27. That’s 70% of the total registration, with 18% of students now registered for correspondence, a form of homeschool, and 12% for at-home learning.

“We had projected 12% of our student population would participate in correspondence study programs in November of 2019, several months before any of us had heard of the coronavirus,” Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Luke Fulp said at the meeting. “Had we know the coronavirus would become a reality, we likely would have projected a higher percentage.”

ASD has reported a large drop in enrollment this year compared to previous years. The last two school years had an enrollment of 29,566 and 29,202 by Aug. 4. This year, that number has dropped to 24,047 enrolled, school officials said at a school board meeting Tuesday.

ASD said correspondence schools in Alaska and other schools both in and outside the state have resulted in the loss of 660 students that were expected to enroll at an Anchorage public school this year.

“The revenue for the district is changing amidst the pandemic,” Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said at a virtual school board meeting Tuesday.

At an MSBSD school board meeting Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution that supported the state’s use of estimated student count data to fund education this year as the board had built its budget using student projections from November.

“If we go up to 25% of our students enrolling in correspondence study, we lose $4.4 million of revenue,” Fulp said while explaining the purpose of the resolution.

Board members said the lack of certainty was scary as this could cause “significant loss in revenue” if more families chose to enroll students in correspondence programs than projected in November.

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