Virginia’s Changing Public School Demographics – COVID Edition

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s public schools underwent significant changes in enrollment between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

The figures for this school year have yet to be released.

In the three-year period ending 2020-21, Virginia public schools saw a decline of 37,775 students, a loss of 2.9%.

The racial and social-economic demographics also changed. The numbers and percentages of Hispanic, Asian and mixed race children bucked the overall trend and increased.

Virginia public school population changes over the three years and current percentages of the public school population by selected subgroups include:

  • Male students maintained their 3% advantage in numbers statewide over female students in all three years.
  • White students three-year change minus 44,036/minus 7% to 580,702. In 2020-21 they comprised 46.3% of the public school population.
  • Black students three-year change minus 8,993/minus 3.1% to 277,039, staying steady at 22.1% of the public school population.
  • Asian students three-year change plus 1,130 to 93,252, increasing to 7.4% of the public school population.
  • Multiple race students three-year change plus 4,341/plus 5.9% to 77,929, increasing to 5.9% of the public school population.
  • Hispanic students three-year change plus 10,042/plus 4.8% to 218,781, increasing to 17.5% of the public school population.
  • Students with disabilities three-year change minus 35,067/minus 1.6% to 168,042, increasing to 13.4% of the public school population.
  • Economically disadvantaged* minus 8,155/minus 1.6% to 512,672,  increasing to 41% of the public school population.
  • English Learners three-year change minus 2,118/minus 1.3%. In 2020-21 maintained steady at 12.8% of the public school population.
  • Homeless three-year change minus 2,228/minus 26.5%.  In 2020-21 decreased to 0.6% of school population.
  • Military connected three-year change plus 91/plus 0.1%. In 2020-21 increased slightly to 5.3% of school population.

*The numbers of disadvantaged children are determined by a methodology that uses free or reduced price meals eligibility. That eligibility is not the same as poverty. The Department of Agriculture guidelines for free meals and milk and reduced price meals were obtained by multiplying the year 2021 Federal income poverty guidelines by 1.30 and 1.85, respectively. Under those guidelines, if a family of four makes $49,000 this year not including excluded federal programs, the children are eligible for reduced price meals and counted as economically disadvantaged.

This information is important in itself and serves as background context for future columns on education in Virginia.

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10 responses to “Virginia’s Changing Public School Demographics – COVID Edition”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Rather than using two year that were totally or partially affected by COVID, it seems that we should wait until the numbers for the current year are available before drawing any conclusions.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Does the amount of tax money spent on public K-12 schools vary with enrollment? Seems like it should even if there is a lag period between declining enrollment and lower spending.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      To a certain degree, yes. You can’t really fire teachers if each class now has a single extra seat but they do often calculate budgets based on $xxxx/student… fewer students… lower budgets.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      It is by law, but the requirements were waived for COVID. The bureaucracy takes care of itself.

    3. how_it_works Avatar

      As I recall the school divisions get a chunk of money from the Commonwealth based on their average daily attendance.

  3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Given the definition of economically disadvantaged,

    Economically disadvantaged* minus 8,155/minus 1.6% to 512,672, increasing to 41% of the public school population.

    41% is too much to fund. Does this match the federal definition? I think it does as they also use free and reduced lunch. Basically, we are asking to fund some economically disadvantaged inside the bell curve?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      It is the federal definition. All of the matching of numbers of students with funding was suspended for COVID. A rule to remember: the bureaucracy funds itself before anything else. That is the source of the “base” budget which is adjusted for inflation. Anything less than last year plus an inflator is called a “cut”.

  4. tmtfairfax Avatar

    Ignoring the value of federal or state benefits in calculating one’s income or income averages doesn’t make any sense. And it’s dishonest too. If a family makes $35,000 but gets $10,000 in government benefits, the family’s income is $45,000. This reminds me of those who call a reduction in the proposed growth of spending in a program a cut.

    Then end of the 2019-20 and all of the 2020-21 school years deserved special treatment re funding because of COVID-19 issues. But it’s time to base funding on the actual number of students in a program, be it general education or a special program.

    1. Matt Hurt Avatar

      On the other side, with the advent of the Community Eligibility Program, we have a number of formerly economically disadvantaged students who have been cured and are no longer designated as so. This program provides free school lunch and breakfast to all students in a school, if the overall school meets the criteria. Therefore, only students who were are direct certified (receive TANF and etc.) are deemed economically disadvantaged. Those students who used to bring in a free lunch form every year to receive free lunches no longer have to do that, and have been cured- no longer designated economically disadvantaged.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I think the VDOE is late with this enrollment data. In the past it is released at the end of October.

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