‘Thousands’ of students not enrolled in school as Polis, school officials make plea to parents

Enrollment drop hurts student learning and future school funding

Gov. Jared Polis and Rico Munn, superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, walk to a press conference at the governor's residence on Sept. 20, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis and school officials on Tuesday begged Colorado parents to enroll their children in school by Thursday — for their own kids’ wellbeing and because future school funding depends on it.

“Your kid will return to school someday, post pandemic. And you don’t want them to be a year or more behind,” said Polis, during a press conference at the governor’s residence in downtown Denver.

“Parents are often juggling one, two jobs, child care responsibilities. As a parent myself, I know how difficult that is. But we know that the potential learning loss for our highest need kids — English language learners, students with disabilities, low-income students — can have implications for years to come,” Polis said.

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State officials are hearing anecdotally from districts about declines in overall enrollment across the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of students enrolled in school plays a critical role in how much funding school districts receive from the state.

On Thursday, teachers and school administrators will start counting the number of students enrolled in both in-person and online learning. Katy Anthes, Colorado commissioner of education, said during the press conference that decisions around protocol for determining student attendance and enrollment is mostly left up to local school boards.

Rico Munn, superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, stressed during the press conference on Tuesday that Colorado is following the same national trend of steep decreases in enrollment for younger learners. 

“Across the metro area, that means thousands of our youngest kids, our preschoolers and kindergarteners, are not enrolled in school,” Munn said.

Polis urged families to not homeschool their children without proper support or guidance. 

“We’ve always had families in Colorado that successfully home-school, but that is a very hard and deliberate thing to do,” he said. “So don’t just think you’re home schooling because you’re giving your kid a book all day.”

  Don't just think you're home schooling because you're giving your kid a book all day.   -Gov. Jared Polis

During the press conference, Polis announced that 40 AmeriCorps members will be working in school districts across the state to help districts find “lost kids” and to help connect them with educational programs. He also announced that the Department of Local Affairs is expanding an existing homelessness prevention program to connect families facing housing instability with funds to help keep them housed and their children in school.

Anthes encouraged community members and nonprofits that engage with families to ask if their children are enrolled in school and offer to help them get connected with their school district. “We cannot let our children’s education become a casualty of this pandemic,” she said.

Gov. Jared Polis speaks with reporter during a press conference on Sept. 29, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

“Students who aren’t in school, or who aren’t engaged in remote learning at all, aren’t just missing out on instruction, they’re missing out on opportunities to benefit from connections, and from other caring adults that can support them with a multitude of needs,” Anthes said, noting school meal programs and health services.

The exact number of students who are not enrolled this school year is yet to be determined, and the many reasons why a student might not be enrolled also remains unclear.

She said tracking the number of students that might be experiencing homelessness and therefore not enrolled in school is especially difficult.

“Those students are the hardest to track and the hardest to find,” she said. “And so again coming back to our core message of today is having community members, having food banks and churches, making sure that they’re connecting our students to our local school districts because those homeless students can get support at their local districts.”