Public school enrollment continues to fall in Minnesota

Minneapolis Public Schools' student enrollment is down almost 13% from 2019, while St. Paul's enrollment is down almost 7%.

A "closed" sign outside of a public school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The state closed all schools in March 2020. (Shutterstock)

Private and charter schools are the beneficiaries of a continued decline in Minnesota public school enrollment.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Education’s annual report shows that compared to the 2020-21 school year, roughly 2,000 fewer students were enrolled in public schools for the 2021-22 school year.

Overall, public schools saw a roughly 0.3% decrease — or about 2,146 students — in enrollment, whereas private schools experienced a 5.8% increase, according to an MDE press release.

Although that represents the second straight year of decline, the 2020-21 school year had seen a much steeper decline due to the severe impact of COVID lockdowns and virtual learning. That decline saw approximately 806,000 enrolled public school students in 2019 drop to 785,000 in 2020, a difference of 21,000 students.

In the Twin Cities, Minneapolis Public Schools’ student enrollment is down almost 13% from 2019, while St. Paul’s enrollment is down almost 7%.

“Frustration over school districts’ distance learning, mask mandates, and curricula concerns contributed to families looking elsewhere during the 2020 school year and have likely played into the enrollment declines for this year as well,” says the Center of the American Experiment.

Other school systems have thus seen a concomitant uptick in student enrollment. Although the number of homeschool students declined from around 31,000 to 28,000, private schools saw an increase in students while charter schools saw only a modest increase. Much of the private school growth is driven by elementary school students, according to MDE data, and so is much of the public school decline.

However, there was one particular point of growth for public schools since the 2020-21 school year — kindergarten enrollment. That is up 5% from last school year, though pre-pandemic numbers are still down overall after a 9% drop from 2019 to 2020.

Many Minnesota children could be required to undergo “ethnic studies” and “climate justice” education in the future — if Democrats manage to pass their proposed legislation and get Gov. Tim Walz to sign the bills into law, that is.