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Public, private schools battle enrollment challenges

Depending on where you live, you may see fewer kids hopping on a school bus than you are used to in the past.


According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the state’s public schools have lost more than 32,000 students due to several factors, with COVID-19 and declining birth rates being the main drivers.


Private school enrollment increased by more than 5,000 students, and home school enrollment jumped by more than 10,000 in the year following the pandemic's start. 


Sturgeon Bay School District Administrator Dan Tjernagel says they have gained students in recent years thanks to open enrollment and new families moving to the area, but they are still seeing the declining enrollment challenges everyone else is facing in public schools. He admits that he pays close attention to the city’s efforts to address affordable housing and child care, which could also play a major role in their future enrollment.


Some private schools like St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Algoma have seen their enrollment increase in recent years thanks to getting kids back into the classroom quicker following the onset of the pandemic among other factors. Principal Peter Kavicky hopes that trend continues after they added child care to their offerings last month.

Declining enrollment does not appear to be improving either, with UW-Madison’s Applied Population Lab adding that public school districts will lose, on average, 11,000 students annually over the next five years.

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