Question: Have Kentucky public schools seen an enrollment decline based on parents choosing private or home school options after the pandemic disruption?

Short Answer: If that change is happening, it isn’t very big. I don’t think it can involve more than 2% of public elementary school enrollment. The elementary enrollment decline is only 4% from 2019 to 2022, and part of that has to be from lower birth rates.

Long Answer: Here’s why it can’t be very big.

Let me start with a caveat. A few years back, Kentucky changed the kindergarten entry age from being five by October 1 to being five by August 1. That gave us a lean year and a fat year for kindergarten enrollment. First, the kids who turned 5 in August and September 2016 weren’t part of the 2016-2017 class unless they got a waiver to attend. Then, those kids joined the 2017-18 class—along with kids a full year younger. That complicates any quick comparisons to years before the 2019 school year. In the charts that follow, I’m showing the 2017 and 2018 school years, but when I calculate percent change, I’ll base those changes on comparing 2019 and 2022. Now, the data.

From the 2019 academic year to the 2022 academic year, Kentucky’s K-12 public enrollment declined 2%, from 668,505 to 656,157.

Looking at grade levels, Kentucky public schools had 2019 to 2022 changes of:

  • 4.1% decline for elementary grades
  • 1.7% decline for middle grades
  • 1.4% growth for high schools (including grade 14 students with IEPs where grade level isn’t counted)

Here’s an important added fact: much off that decline in numbers has to come from declining births. Comparing 2008 births to 2016, Kentucky saw a 6% drop off, a trend that flows through into reduction in who became eligible to start school from fall 2013 to fall 2021.

Accordingly, some moving away from public education after pandemic disruption may be happening, but it can’t be huge. As a sandlot maximum, it might be 2% of elementary kids—half the decline from 2019 to 2022, with the other half coming from lower numbers of births.

Implication: The change-to-other-schools trend can’t be very large. For policy analysis, it’s probably more important to think about how each level of education will need to adjust as they have fewer students in the coming years.


Susan Perkins Weston analyzes Kentucky data and policy, and she’s always on the lookout for ways to enrich the instructional core where students and teachers work together on learning content. Susan is an independent consultant who has been taking on Prichard Committee assignments since 1991. She is a Prichard Committee Senior Fellow.

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