Public school enrollment takes another dip in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The student population in West Virginia public schools has dropped by nearly 21,000 students in the last four years.

Clayton Burch

The state Department of Education released official headcount numbers for this school year at the state Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

This school year’s official student population is 252,910, a reduction of 1,183 from last year. The school population was 273,777 just four years ago.

Public schools in West Virginia lost 9,276 students in the 2020-21 COVID year with many students being homeschooled. State education officials were hopeful many of those students would return this year but the numbers show that hasn’t happened in large numbers.

State School Superintendent Clayton Burch said last year’s reduction of nearly 10,000 students was disappointing. He said at least some students have returned.

Burch said there are many factors that have an impact on the rate including declining birth rates and families exiting the state.

“Of course the redistricting map, our loss of population here in the state of West Virginia. We were bracing ourself for that trend of continued loss but this was a smaller rate of loss,” Burch said.

Tom Campbell

Student enrollment dropped by roughly 4,000 students from the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-19 year. Enrollment took about a 5,000 student drop from 2018-19 to the 2019-20 year. Then COVID hit.

State Board of Education member Tom Campbell, a former state lawmaker, said it may be time to enter into more serious discussions with the state legislature about possible changes to the school funding formula with the continued decrease in headcount enrollment.

“Subjectively the needs would be different in a smaller, declining school population than a growing, larger student population,” Campbell said.

Last year the department said of the overall enrollment, 47,960 students were receiving instruction at home through either county-based or state-based virtual programs.

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