OKLAHOMA CITY — In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma’s annual student count shows its first decrease in overall public school enrollment in 19 years.
Oklahoma State Department of Education data shows 694,113 students enrolled in pre-K through 12th grade for 2020-21, a decline of 9,537, or about 1% from last year’s total.
Pre-K and kindergarten numbers accounted for 75% of the decreased enrollment, with 4,734 fewer pre-K students and 2,381 fewer kindergarteners enrolled in 2020-21 than in 2019-20, suggesting parents are choosing to delay entry of their 4- and 5-year-olds into school.
“This pandemic has presented a multitude of challenges, and lower early childhood enrollment numbers tell us we will need to heighten our focus on early learning opportunities and strategic interventions to ensure these children have the prerequisite skills needed for reading and math,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said.
One of the main goals of Oklahoma Edge, the OSDE’s eight-year strategic plan, is to align early childhood education and learning foundations to ensure at least 75% of students are “ready to read” upon kindergarten entry.
Historically, Oklahoma has enjoyed high participation in pre-K. Seventy-six percent of eligible children in the state attended a public Pre-K program last year, compared to national pre-K attendance rate of 34%.
Demographic information showed little change in the racial and ethnic makeup of Oklahoma students. Just over half of the state’s students were Hispanic, American Indian, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, or members of two or more races, while 47.15% of students were white.
Virtual schools saw a big jump in enrollment because of the pandemic.
Among districts, Epic Charter Schools saw the biggest gain in overall enrollment. Epic One-on-One Charter School increased enrollment from 17,106 to 35,731, or 110.8%, and Epic Blended Learning Centers increased enrollment from 10,962 to 23,714, or 116.3%.
Other virtual charters saw substantial increases, as well, including Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy (50.3% increase), Connections Academy (60% increase), eSchool Virtual Charter (212.3% increase) and Insight School (33.1% increase).