Our schools have been a flashpoint in much of the discussions over the past two years, with both the pandemic and politics.
And a new report shows that they have had some big effects on public schools.
In their annual ‘State of Education’ report, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators found that nearly 30,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools this past year.
“We did see a bit of an exodus from the traditional brick-and-mortar education setting to both cyber charter schools and home education programs,” Andrew Christ, PSBA Director of Education Policy, said. “Most of the enrollment decline had to do with kids not in compulsory school age yet., these would be your kindergarteners and your pre-kindergarten kids.”
Meanwhile, cyber schools and home education enrollment both shot up nearly 60% between the 2019-2020 school year and 2020-2021 school year. This, as more than 90% of superintendents surveyed agreed that partisan politics impacted the work of their school district during the pandemic.
However, most parents would still give their schools a good grade.
“What we found was that 66% of parents with a kid in a traditional public school district said that their district did a good job of balancing those health and safety needs with balancing a quality education,” Christ said.
But like in other sectors, finding enough quality educators is a concern going forward.
Three-quarters of school districts anticipate staffing shortages to be their biggest challenge this year. Nearly all reported a shortage of substitute teachers while roughly 80% of districts also reported shortages in instructional aides, and drivers.
And there are budget concerns, especially when it comes to paying for those attending charter schools.
“School districts are left to make some difficult choices in order to pay those costs (like) raising property taxes, cutting programs and services, or moving some stuff around in your budgets to try and balance things out,” Christ said.
Another concern is a lack of state funding. Only five other states receive a lower proportion of public education funding from state revenues than Pennsylvania, according to PSBA.
Greater Johnstown School District is one of six districts suing the state to change that.
Another challenge going forward is mental health. Another challenge going forward is mental health.
The report found the most cited instructional challenge was addressing the social and emotional issues that students are experiencing.
Also, 85% of school districts said that staff in their district are “burned out.”