• Brandon Colvin

Nearly ten thousand Alabama students missing from schools

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Nearly 10,000 of Alabama’s public school students have not returned to school this year. State officials have not been able to account for the missing students and suspect that the decrease in enrollment may be a result of COVID-19-related fears.


Earlier this week, State School Superintendent Eric Mackey provided updated numbers on statewide enrollment, estimating that roughly 15,000 students had not returned to public schools this year, with 5,000 of that number having shifted to one of the state’s virtual schooling options. Still, 9,800 students are absent from in-classroom rolls and officials are not sure where these students are. This number does not include students who are enrolled in virtual school or other online programs.


“We know from experience that many of these kids are undocumented immigrants, they’re homeless students. Many of these kids are transient,” Mackey said.


According to state figures, there were approximately 724,000 students enrolled in Alabama’s public K-12 schools during the 2019-2020 academic year. The largest statewide school enrollment in recent years came during the 2015-2016 academic year, with approximately 730,500 students learning in Alabama’s classrooms.


The updated numbers on missing students are the result of the completed verification of student enrollment for the end of the year. The decreases in enrollment will likely create a ripple effect across Alabama’s educational landscape, impacting teacher employment, student learning, and state funding for schools.


With fewer students, schools may consolidate classes, leaving less need for a full teaching staff. During the November school board meeting, Mackey told attendees, “Even if a school is down 45 students, that means they could lose three teacher units...then you’ve got teachers who might get laid off. He added that “hundreds of teaching jobs” could be cut for the 2021-22 academic year.


Without the benefit of a fall school term, un-enrolled students will be challenged to “catch up” academically once they return to the classroom. Students that are not making academic progress while un-enrolled could fall behind their enrolled peers and suffer both academically and socially as a result.


Because the State of Alabama currently determines funding allocation for schools using an enrollment-based formula, school districts suffering the largest student losses might also suffer decreases in state funding. The formula utilizes a number called ADM, or average daily membership. ADM is the average student enrollment in the 20 school days following Labor Day. According to reports, a new formula is being developed by the state education department’s finance office that might prevent schools that suffered enrollment reductions from being penalized by funding decreases.


While the enrollment decreases were not completely unanticipated, their impact is significant. Superintendent Mackey has described the decline as “the biggest one year drop we’ve had in modern history,” adding, “...it’s obviously, I think, related to COVID. Some of it might be natural decline. We’ve had years when we’ve dropped a thousand students or two thousand students. But not this kind of drop.”


Despite the numbers, the superintendent remains hopefully optimistic, saying “I truly believe those students will come back to us next year.”


There has already been a slow return of students to classrooms each month. District officials have reported that students have been showing up to schools across the state, for the first time, as late as October and November.


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