Update on the Richmond School Enrollment Meltdown

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I presented Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) statistics indicating that student enrollment in the City of Richmond public school system dropped 25% this year. The drop was especially pronounced among Asian and White students — more than 60% for both categories — suggesting a massive flight from Richmond city schools.

The numbers were accurate, but the article was missing critical context. As reader “RJordan” pointed out in the comments section, Richmond enrollment numbers had surged the previous year, when fear of COVID-19 was at its peak, as hundreds of students from around the region signed up for the city’s virtual schools program. As school systems returned to in-person classes, the students dis-enrolled from Richmond and returned to their normal school districts.

However, flight from Richmond public schools is still a real thing — it’s just not as pronounced as I had portrayed it. John Butcher ran the numbers, broken down by racial/ethnic category, comparing 2019 and 2022 enrollments.

Some will be tempted to characterize this out-migration as “white flight.” But, as the numbers show, it’s also an “Asian flight.”

Black students are leaving Richmond schools in large numbers as well, although it does not appear to be a flight of the Black middle class. The enrollment decline among Blacks is comprised overwhelmingly of kids classified as “economically disadvantaged.” The number of those not so classified has barely budged. Just a theory: those numbers may reflect continued gentrification and displacement of poor Blacks from the city into neighboring jurisdictions as real estate prices soar across the region.