CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s public school enrollment is down by 4,858 students this school year, a decline that Dr. Steven Paine, state superintendent of schools, is partly attributing to changes in the enrollment cutoff date for pre-kindergarten.

Without those delayed from entering pre-kindergarten, “We’re probably more like 2,800 kids down,” Paine said.

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Dr. Steve Paine

He called that number similar or a “tad higher” than enrollment declines in previous years.

Last year, state law was changed to set the pre-K deadline for students to those who turn four before July 1 instead of the previous Sept. 1.

This was the first school year for the new date.

“It’s important to note that the students who did not attend pre-K this school year will attend next year,” said Paine.

He provided his 2nd month report on public school enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year during Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting in Charleston.

“What’s happened — artificially — is that we have a greater decline of students this year for that reason.”

Other factors in the enrollment declines, according to Paine, included West Virginia’s declining birth rate for an estimated enrollment decline of 2,252 students along with the number of students withdrawing from public schools for home schools or private schools.

In the previous fiscal year, 3,170 students withdrew from public schools statewide. This fiscal year, that number is 3,877.

“I certainly don’t have a problem with home-schooled students, but I do have a problem with the qualifications and the criteria that has been established for those home-schooled students,” Paine said.

In most cases, he told BOE members, he believed high-quality education was being provided to those schooled at home.

However, he added, “The law has changed significantly from the time when I was a teacher, a principal and otherwise and so I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are circumstances where it’s being abused and I fear for those kids that they’re not receiving a quality education.”

In terms of overall numbers of students, Kanawha County saw the largest decrease in student enrollment with 544 fewer students currently enrolled or 2.07 percent less of the total student population compared with last year.

Among percentages, Ritchie County recorded the largest decrease statewide with 6.86 percent fewer students.

The enrollment data was based on information collected from West Virginia’s public schools as of Oct. 1, 2018.

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