Enrollment is down for public schools across Arizona, according to a new report by the state Department of Education.
The report shows there are about 38,000 fewer students enrolled in K-12 public schools in Arizona for this academic year compared to the last.
When broken down by school type, district schools saw a 6% decline in enrollment statewide while charter schools saw a 9% increase.
Kindergarten and preschool programs saw the biggest enrollment declines. Combined, enrollment dropped by 17% for those grade levels.
The Cave Creek Unified School District is among those that saw enrollment declines. It has about 400 fewer students this school year, which translates to a 7% drop compared to the previous year.
“Since the number of students attending school dictates the district’s budget, the district is facing a potential budget shortfall in fiscal year 2022 of approximately $4.1 million dollars, which represents a budget reduction of over 11%,” the district’s Superintendent Cort Monroe said in a video message.
“This would be difficult in anyone’s budget, but especially difficult when salary and benefits for employees equal 80% of the district’s operating budget.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Arizona Auditor General’s Office had already placed the district on a watch list for “approaching highest financial risk” for several reasons, including general fund revenues and balances.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Wednesday there has been a “significant decline” in enrollment for pre-K and kindergarten students.
“I think part of that is the notion or the perception that those skills that are taught in pre-K and kindergarten can more easily be taught at home,” said Hoffman, speaking of basic skills like letters and numbers. “I do want to point out that there is so much information out there about the importance of school providing kindergarten and pre-school for children because of all the social, emotional benefits.”
“It’s really important for their developmental growth as well as their academic skills, so I do want to emphasize that I do hope that in the coming months that we’ll see an increase of re-enrollment of our four and five-year-olds,” Hoffman added.
Monroe said the Cave Creek Unified School District faces the challenge of making necessary budget reductions due to the enrollment declines.