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Study finds Virginia public schools could lose $160 million in funding due to an early drop in enrollment

Radford superintendent calls this year’s loss significant

Public schools in Virginia are seeing a drop in enrollment.
Public schools in Virginia are seeing a drop in enrollment.

RADFORD, Va. – Each year, public schools in Virginia report enrollment numbers to the Virginia Department of Education to help regulate state funding.

A new survey estimates that Virginia’s public schools are down 36,000 students which could result in a loss of nearly $160 million.

In Radford, public school attendance has dropped by roughly 70 students and Radford City School Superintendent Robert Graham predicts that trend will continue.

“We’ve slashed everything we could slash. There’s nothing left to slash," admitted Graham, who calls this year’s loss significant.

Typically, Radford schools lose 15-20 students each year but add the same amount.

When asked where those students may be, Graham said he doesn’t know and that worries him more than anything.

Graham’s calculation equals a $560,000 loss in funding for the school district.

“I can’t fathom having any employee, just having to furlough or reduce in force with the great job our teachers are doing," said Graham.

Across the state, an estimated 36,000 fewer students are enrolled in public schools, according to a survey by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS).

122 school systems responded to the survey.

It’s likely these students have chosen homeschooling, a private school education or transferred to another system. The loss adds to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic struggle systems are facing.

Collectively, the drop represents a prospective loss of $154 million in basic aid funding from the state, which is based on student attendance explained VASS Executive Director Ben Kiser.

“It would have a significant impact on all school divisions regardless of size," said Kiser. “I can’t say without uncertainty what those 36,000 students are doing.”

Here at home, some systems like Martinsville City Schools are trending up while others like Roanoke, Montgomery County and Radford are not.

In Roanoke, early estimates show 200 fewer students are enrolled.

VASS is requesting the General Assembly alter its approach to budgeting this year.

“We’re asking them to formally put a pause on recognizing the September 30 enrollment count and hold school divisions harmless through the March count," explained Kiser.

Tallying up the number of students enrolled is a challenge in itself. New factors this year like virtual learning are making it more difficult.

“We have 91 students who have checked out laptops but not participated in the course," explained Dr. Julie Drewry with Roanoke City Schools.

Drewry said support services is contacting these families daily.

Systems must report enrollment by Sept. 30.

About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.