Once the pandemic hit and schools began shutting down, moving to virtual learning or a hybrid model across the country, my sister in Maryland needed a more predictable and reliable option for my nephew. Without the time to home-school him, she enrolled him in private school.

It's been the same scramble for parents across Iowa, combined with last August's derecho. Put it together and it's led to the first public school enrollment decline in Iowa in a decade, according to KCRG.

The districts in Eastern Iowa covered by Grant Wood Area Education Agency (AEA) have lost 1,100 students this year, compared to the 200-600 they normally gain. In a normal year, they'd have the ability to keep track of where and why the students are leaving. But the past year has been anything but normal. That communication with families leaving or not enrolling in the public school system has been sporadic, leaving districts without the proper accounting for the losses.

Many have chosen the home-school option, others the private school route and the derecho caused an exodus of many to leave the area altogether. But not all have communicated their choices to the public school districts they were previously enrolled in.

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John Speer of Grant Wood AEA says, of course, they want to see the students come back personally, and thinks enrollment will be back on the upswing next school year when more stability returns, but it also affects federal funding a district can receive when declining enrollment is seen.

Linn-Mar has lost 77 students and has only accounted for 25-30 of them and College Community will offer open enrollment to welcome more students into their schools. Wear is an advocate for nationwide changes to the "tracking system" of enrolled students who leave the public school system, but for now, they have to play it by ear.


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