Thousands of students haven’t shown up for in-person or online school this year in Alabama

by James Gordon

Monday, November 16th 2020

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WPMI) — Education leaders across Alabama are now trying to account for more than 5,000 students who didn’t show up for in person or online school this year. The number is staggering and many believe the decline is COVID-19 related.

Some have gone to private schools, and many others are home schooled. That could be a concern when it comes to budgeting for next year.

“We are already having conversations with the executive budget office and the legislative leadership about how to plan for next year, so it’s going to be an unusual budget year but we’ll work it on out,” said Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey.

“The funding that we are operating on today is based on the number of students we had last year, so it’s a year behind. Therefore next year we’ll be operating on the numbers from today,” said Jessie McDaniel, Baldwin County’s AEA teacher’s union representative who says he’s learned enrollment numbers here are down too. Baldwin County School’s enrollment dropped by 486 students.

“We saw enough growth to indicate that outside of COVID, new students would have been added to our school system. We will certainly take the small break while we continue to prepare for the rapid growth we expect to see in years to come, ” said BCBE Chief Financial Officer John Wilson.

The largest gap statewide is in kindergarten enrollment, which is down by 5% statewide. Kindergarten is not mandatory in Alabama, but the decline could lead to less money from the state.

“Baldwin County is blessed that they are not in the same financial situation that other school systems are,” said McDaniel.

In larger counties like Baldwin County, schools have more flexibility with local funding.

“So that would mean sacrificing other priorities. So this is an important decision that the school system will have to make. Of course, we will be there to advocate for our employees,” said McDaniel.

The state superintendent is working with the governor’s office and state lawmakers to figure out a budget formula that would help all the school systems across Alabama.