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.

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7 responses to “Update on the Richmond School Enrollment Meltdown”

  1. Is there any tracking to make sure these Econ Disadvantaged children have been re-enrolled?

  2. Here are the numbers on the economically disadvantaged (ED) students and their more affluent peers (Not ED).

    1. Matt Hurt Avatar

      One thing to keep in mind here is that the Economically Disadvantaged numbers have gone down in many places due to the Community Eligibility Program. In this program, if a school meets certain criteria, all kids receive free lunches. The kids who used to have to submit a free lunch form no longer have to do so in order to get free lunches, so they’re no longer identified as economically disadvantaged. The only kids so designated are what they call “direct certified”, meaning they receive government subsidies such as TANF.


  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    We need to find out where disenrolled students went to? What alternatives to RCPS did families find? Did the flight produce better outcomes? Should education dollars follow the student or the school system?

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Well, they do follow the student, within the public schools. Much of state $$ based on per capita enrollment. That’s the thing about the public charters that scares the Mediocrity Brigade, the dollars would flow out.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Charter schools are public schools, so the $ stay in the district. Under Virginia’s current law, the charters don’t even have control of their teacher staffing.

  4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Still looking for the reference that shows that out-of-district kids enrolled in Richmond schools in 2020-21. Anybody got it?

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