School districts across the state are seeing drops in enrollment and reporting more families homeschooling their younger children this fall.
As of Oct. 1, Manchester schools reported an enrollment of 12,737 students. “We’ve lost 10 since then,” said Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen on Oct. 22. Last year, Manchester had almost 14,000 students.
More than 1,100 Manchester students are homeschooled this fall, up from 754 in June.
Allen said it’s the biggest drop in enrollment since 2007, when Bedford built its own high school and stopped sending students to Manchester High School West.
The biggest drop has been in kindergarten. Last year, Manchester had 1,000 kindergartners, Allen said. On Oct. 1 of this year, there were 757.
“I think that’s directly related to COVID, and us being in the hybrid situation,” Allen said.
Manchester’s kindergartners and first-graders were the first city students to return to school in-person. The district split each class in half, with one half in the school building on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half in on Thursdays and Fridays.
Parents have placed students in private kindergarten in day cares that offer full-time, in-person instruction or have opted to homeschool their children. Homeschooling is way up, Allen said, particularly for kindergartners.
The hybrid model, intended to be a compromise between full remote and full in-person, still leaves some families unsatisfied, Allen said,
“They want their kids home full-time, or they want their kids in school full-time,” Allen said.
Smaller, more rural districts are seeing more families opting to homeschool their children too.
The Newfound school district, which educates children from Alexandria, Bridgewater, Bristol, Danbury, Groton, Hebron and New Hampton, saw 23 more children start homeschooling this year, said Superintendent Pierre Couture. The small district counted 1,172 students this month, Couture said, down from 1,202 in October 2019.
Tim Dow, a school board member in Franklin who also sits on the board of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, said districts across the state are seeing more children homeschooled this year.
“It’s definitely becoming a trend,” Dow said
In rural areas, Dow said the internet coverage isn’t good enough to support the hours of video conferences remote learning requires. Other parents, Dow said, aren’t sure remote learning engages their children.
Fewer students, less funding
The loss of almost 1,200 students in Manchester schools will mean the loss of millions in state aid for Manchester, Allen said.
Federal funding that supports schools with a high proportion of poor children could be affected too. That aid is measured with applications for free and reduced-price school lunch. Fewer children in the schools could mean less federal money, and those free and reduced-price applications have been coming back to the school district more slowly than in a normal year.
“When we lose a student we lose about $3,800 of adequacy money,” Dow said of Franklin schools. “That’ll definitely impact our budget.”
Dow said he hopes the homeschoolers will come back to public school as the buildings reopen. He said he thought it was possible students would come back. Parents do not seem to be leaving because they think public schools aren’t doing well enough for their children in general.
“Talking to parents, a lot of it deals with the pandemic, wanting their kids to have five days a week of one-on-one education,” Dow said, not any ideological commitments to homeschooling or against public school.