Where have all the students gone? Over 100,000 left New York public schools over a two-year period

Posted at 10:40 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 11:51:36-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — For the past two years families across America have faced countless hardships and roadblocks, taking what they know as normal and re-configuring it when confronted with COVID. At the center of it all — their children.

The Empire Center for Public Policy, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit that follows various statistical trends within the state says the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on children and how they receive their education.

According to the Empire Center, over the last two years there has been a combined 5% drop in K-12 enrollment in the state with more than 100,000 students exiting the state's public school system.

This interactive map shows the decline in student population.

Breaking the numbers down by Western New York counties, Allegany County lost the most students at a 5.5% drop and Erie County the least with a 3.42% drop.

Breaking the numbers down by district, the Holland Central School District had one of the largest losses with a more than 12% loss of students, Kenmore more than 7%, Buffalo Public Schools nearly 7%, East Aurora 6.5% and Williamsville more than 4%. To check on your district, click the interactive map.

Peter Warren of the Empire Center said it is a historic decline and the data suggests the students have found alternative learning opportunities outside of the public school system.

So where did the students go and why?

For Justin Brown, his wife and four school-aged children after their public school went virtual and then to a hybrid in 2020, they chose to make the switch to their neighborhood Catholic school in Williamsville. The switch ensured a full-time in-person learning experience during the most challenging days of COVID, which was something they wanted to make sure the kids had.

For Nicole Kropp, a mother of three, mask mandates were a breaking point for her and her 7th grade son. Kropp said her son could not focus on learning, because his whole focus was on breathing. Masks stressed him out and made him feel closed in and claustrophobic, according to Kropp which is why she decided to opt for homeschooling.

For Laura Weymouth, a mother of two, she decided to keep her kids home and opt for homeschooling as her family remains cautious about COVID. Weymouth said homeschooling allows for consistency and stability for the kids.

Three families and three different stories on how they have handled the pandemic are just a sampling of where some of the 100,000 students who were once enrolled in public school have now found new educational opportunities.

Warren said it will be interesting to see if there is a bounce-back or how much of this sticks.