12,000 students leave Broward schools as pandemic continues

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mother homeschooling her two children on the computerAbout 12,000 students have left the Broward County school system in the past 18 months, moving to other districts, private schools, home-schooling — or just missing without explanation.

The drop surprised school officials who expected enrollment to rise as students returned to buildings after months of learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it contrasted with Palm Beach County, which lost a relatively small number of students.

A total of 256,021 students are attending public schools in Broward this year, down 4,694 from last year. That’s the second-highest drop in the past 15 years, surpassed only by last year, when enrollment plummeted by 7,255.

The trend could eventually lead to discussions about whether to close schools and lay off teachers. A drop in enrollment usually means a drop in funding, which forces districts to make painful cuts. However, the effects may be blunted in the short term since Broward is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief aid.

A January planning document projected enrollment to increase by 5,500 this year. Last year’s drop, which was largely elementary students, was attributed partly to the district’s decision to start the school year online only.

With the district back to 100% face-to-face learning this year, district officials are trying to figure out where students are and how to get them back.

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