Rural schools in Alabama hit hardest by enrollment losses during pandemic

December 9, 2020 7:05 AM

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini AP)AP

By Trisha Powell Crain |

With Alabama schools now enrolling nearly 10,000 fewer students than last fall, took a closer look and found the losses were the largest in rural county systems and the missing students were most likely to be white students.

Some districts experienced large student losses. Conecuh County, home of Evergreen in South Alabama had the largest percentage drop in students—losing 13% of enrollment overall—but the loss appears to be connected to that district’s virtual school, Genesis Innovative School, which lost nearly 200 students.

Out of Alabama’s 138 school districts, just 18 districts—nearly all of them city systems—saw an increase in enrollment of between 1% and 5%. Another 35 school districts, again most of them in cities, basically held their own, losing or gaining up to 1% of their population compared to last year.

County systems in rural areas suffered the biggest losses, with 45 of 67 counties losing between 1% and 5% of their population, and six counties losing more than 5% of their population.

The six county school districts that lost more than 5% of their student population as compared with last year are:

  • Conecuh County – down 13.4%
  • Choctaw County – down 9%
  • Wilcox County – down 5.8%
  • Dallas County – down 5.6%
  • Randolph County – down 5.6%
  • Covington County – down 5.5%

Of course, larger districts saw greater losses in sheer number of students, with Mobile County enrolling 1,720 fewer students, Birmingham City schools enrolling 1,227 fewer students, and Jefferson County school enrolling 1,119 fewer students.

Jefferson County Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin told they have since enrolled around 300 of those missing students. They have identified another group that has enrolled in either private or virtual school but are still looking for the remainder of the students.

The map below shows where enrollment shifted from last year to this year, with shades of red showing losses and shades of green showing where enrollment grew. Hover over the district for more information.

Click here to have the map open in a new window.

By contrast, a smaller proportion—27 in total—of Alabama’s 71 city school districts lost between 1% and 5% of their student population. But seven city school districts lost more than 5% of their population. Those districts are:

  • Dothan City – down 7.3%
  • Bessemer City – down 7.2%
  • Fairfield City – down 6.1%
  • Tarrant City – down 6.1%
  • Birmingham City – down 5.6%
  • Troy City – down 5.6%
  • Attalla City – down 5.1% took a look at enrollment data, which is a snapshot of enrollment on the 20th day after Labor Day, Oct. 5 this year, to find data broken down by race and ethnicity.

Statewide, the largest racial group of students missing from school rolls are white students, down from 388,700 students to 380,200, a loss of 8,500, or 2.2% of last year’s total.

Enrollment of African-American students is down from 232,200 to 230,600, a loss of 1,600, or just under 1% of last year’s total.

Enrollment of Hispanic student rose by 1,700, from 66,000 to 67,700, an increase of 2.6% from last year. All other racial groups showed modest increases in enrollment.

The chart below reflects the breakdown of students by racial group statewide since the 2010-11 school year.

Click here to open the chart in a new window.

Looking at the shift of enrollment by racial group, of districts that lost more than 50 white students, Conecuh County saw the biggest percentage drop, losing 22% of their white students. Then came Choctaw County (18%), Dallas County (15%), Dothan City (13%), Thomasville City (11%) and Gadsden City (9.3%).

Of districts that lost more than 50 Black students, Conecuh County again saw the biggest percentage drop, losing 11.3% of its Black student population. Saraland City was next, with a drop of 10%, then Tallapoosa County (8.3%), Dallas County (8.1%), Tarrant City (8%) and Homewood City (7.5%).

The charts below allow you to see the racial composition of each school district. Use the drop-down menu to choose a district. Hover over the bars in the chart for more information.

Click here to open the chart in a new window.

While Alabama’s overall revenues for education have not been impacted by the pandemic, with next year’s funding tied to this year’s enrollment superintendents statewide are eager to see what happens when lawmakers return to Montgomery for the regular session in February.

Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey said he is working with lawmakers to find a way to hold districts harmless for their enrollment losses, but it’s unclear how school districts experiencing large enrollment increases could have their funding impacted next year.

And a handful of schools saw significant increases.

The standalone, statewide virtual schools affiliated with Chickasaw City, Limestone County and Eufaula City saw the largest gains in enrollment, adding 3,400 students between the three of them.

In Chickasaw City Schools, Superintendent David Wofford told that students from all over the state chose to enroll in his school district’s kindergarten through 10th grade virtual school, called Destinations Academy.

School-level enrollment figures show a gain of nearly 1,500 students in the virtual school, which opened at the start of the 2019-20 school year. Wofford has had to figure out how to educate all of those new students using money based on last year’s enrollment.

Limestone County’s virtual school, Alabama Connections Academy, added the most students, nearly doubling their enrollment, rising from 2,300 to 4,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools grew from 3,100 students last year to just under 4,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.