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Ohio school enrollment slide cause for concern

Students in the public school system were asked to make a massive change in the way they learned a year ago. By the fall, an alarming number of them were no longer part of Ohio’s public school system. According to the Ohio Department of Education, enrollment decreased by 53,000 from the previous fall.

State data shows some of those students are now being home schooled, or have moved to private or parochial schools. Some very young students were held back from kindergarten for a year. And some, it seems, simply abandoned schooling altogether. While the state’s data does not fully explain why each student was pulled from the public system, Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon told the Associated Press he knew some high schoolers had chosen to begin working, rather than stay in school.

Parents who had once believed the cost of private or parochial school was too high, or had not had a reason to look into state-backed tuition vouchers, quickly found out the cost of child care while parents were at work was even higher.

One Toledo mother switched her 7-year-old to Catholic school and held her younger child back from kindergarten for a year. She is now planning to send that child to Catholic school, too.

“I feel bad for the public school system because we’re not going back,” she said. “Certainly not at this point.”

That’s a big problem for public school officials, especially in larger districts. Teachers and administrators are dealing with learning loss for the students who remained enrolled in public schools, worried about the older kids who dropped out and may never come back, and now facing rejuvenated competition from other sectors.

“It’s really not up to me to decide how parents should feel,” Gordon said. “I want parents to seek out the best educational opportunity for their child at any time, and that’s even more true today than it probably was pre-pandemic.”

If that’s the case, it sounds as though Ohio’s public school officials have their work cut out for them as they work to prove to parents they are the best option for their children.

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