The Phoenix Flyer

Uncertainty about COVID trends complicates enrollment forecast for the 2020-21 school year

By: - December 11, 2020 5:33 pm

Sarasota District Schools, transportation. Photo from Facebook page, Sarasota District Schools, transportation.

State officials are struggling to calculate what COVID-19 will mean for Florida’s schools during the academic year that begins next fall. In fact, a meeting held Friday to figure that out ended before some of the state’s top number crunchers reached definitive conclusions.

“We are in uncharted territory here, because we are trying to forecast something that will happen in a year that we have no basis for doing it,” said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research.

The officials plan to reconvene next week.

The forecast will depend in part on the survey the Florida Department of Education conducts to learn how many students in PreK through 12th grade to expect each year. The findings factor into legislative decisions about how to spread available state money among the local districts.

The regular session of the Legislature begins in March, although committees will meet in the meantime.

Florida students have experienced chaos since March amid conflicting information about how safe it is to attend classes in person versus whether remote classes really work. Meanwhile, it’s still unclear what COVID will look like next fall. Cases are spiking now, but the state is preparing to roll out the first batches of a vaccine being distributed by the federal government.

“There were increases in exits to home education and private schools,” said Hannah Norcini, who represented the education department at the conference. Those choosing online learning increased by almost 200 percent, she said.

Currently, the forecasts assume that most students will return to their previously preferred learning style within the next year, according to Norcini and Baker.

“It is entirely possible that somebody tried something different during the pandemic that they otherwise would have tried and they will like it and will stay there,” Baker said.

“They converted to private school and they like that private school setting; they converted to home school and they like home school. So that’s entirely possible,” she continued. “But I think we can only assume, at this point, that people will return to the behavior that they were on the path to do prior to all this happening.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.