By on 2.15.21 in Education

Across the country, fewer students are showing up in traditional public schools because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We have looked at attendance data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to understand how declines in enrollment vary across the state and which grades are impacted.

What is Average Daily Membership?

Average Daily Membership (ADM) is considered the most accurate metric for how many students are in a school. Schools are funded based on their forecasted ADM. For this year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that holds districts harmless for ADM declines.

How much is school attendance down?

Statewide, nearly 63,000 fewer students were attending public schools in Month 2 of 2020-21 compared to 2019-20, a loss of -4.4%.

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Public school enrollments had been slowly declining since 2015-16, reflecting two factors:

  1. Growing enrollments in charter schools
  2. Smaller kindergarten classes because of lower birth rates during the Great Recession.

The decline in ADM this past fall was five times larger than the largest decline previously observed (between 2017-18 and 2018-19).

Where is school attendance down?

Statewide, only two public school systems reported higher Month 2 ADM in 2020-21 over 2019-20:

  • Mount Airy Schools: 41 students or 2.6%
  • Elkin City Schools: 18 or 1.5%

All other school districts had ADM declines of at least one percent or greater, with Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Weldon City Schools reporting ADM losses of nearly eighteen percent.

Month 2 ADM Changes, 2019-20 vs. 2020-21

District Name2019-202020-21Change% Change
North Carolina Total1,418,0511,355,120-62,931-4.4%
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools146,939138,884-8,055-5.5%
Wake County Schools161,907157,673-4,234-2.6%
Rowan-Salisbury Schools18,71015,418-3,292-17.6%
Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools53,65350,407-3,246-6.0%
Guilford County Schools71,15168,264-2,887-4.1%
Cumberland County Schools49,93648,185-1,751-3.5%
Durham Public Schools32,85131,171-1,680-5.1%
Union County Public Schools41,39439,727-1,667-4.0%
Buncombe County Schools23,66522,031-1,634-6.9%
Alamance-Burlington Schools22,89321,401-1,492-6.5%
Gaston County Schools30,79829,318-1,480-4.8%
New Hanover County Schools25,76124,368-1,393-5.4%
Nash-Rocky Mount Schools14,98813,896-1,092-7.3%
Johnston County Schools36,87835,906-972-2.6%
Cabarrus County Schools33,59032,668-922-2.7%
Harnett County Schools20,14719,256-891-4.4%
Craven County Schools13,27212,460-812-6.1%
Davidson County Schools18,55717,751-806-4.3%
Public Schools Of Robeson County21,27020,478-792-3.7%
Wayne County Public Schools17,99717,223-774-4.3%
Rockingham County Schools11,55010,825-725-6.3%
Randolph County School System15,75815,049-709-4.5%
Lee County Schools9,8739,174-699-7.1%
Pitt County Schools23,52022,838-682-2.9%
Onslow County Schools26,78926,142-647-2.4%
Caldwell County Schools11,20510,591-614-5.5%
Wilson County Schools10,92110,315-606-5.5%
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools12,30411,764-540-4.4%
Brunswick County Schools12,56612,060-506-4.0%
Wilkes County Schools8,9678,469-498-5.6%
Burke County Schools11,87211,392-480-4.0%
Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools5,2144,749-465-8.9%
Henderson County Schools13,39212,927-465-3.5%
Hoke County Schools8,7928,342-450-5.1%
Richmond County Schools6,9826,549-433-6.2%
Sampson County Schools7,9857,555-430-5.4%
Beaufort County Schools6,3025,887-415-6.6%
Moore County Schools12,77512,363-412-3.2%
Iredell-Statesville Schools20,40320,001-402-2.0%
Granville County Schools7,2126,816-396-5.5%
Catawba County Schools15,71115,335-376-2.4%
Haywood County Schools7,0746,707-367-5.2%
Chatham County Schools8,9638,612-351-3.9%
Lincoln County Schools11,36011,019-341-3.0%
Orange County Schools7,3657,031-334-4.5%
Stokes County Schools5,7875,455-332-5.7%
Davie County Schools6,0855,766-319-5.2%
Vance County Schools5,2704,954-316-6.0%
Carteret County Public Schools8,0587,743-315-3.9%
Edgecombe County Public Schools5,6095,294-315-5.6%
Franklin County Schools8,0377,724-313-3.9%
Scotland County Schools5,5795,272-307-5.5%
Cleveland County Schools14,09213,791-301-2.1%
Surry County Schools7,4097,113-296-4.0%
Hickory City Schools4,1113,822-289-7.0%
Rutherford County Schools7,5937,308-285-3.8%
Lenoir County Public Schools8,4658,207-258-3.0%
Cherokee County Schools3,0792,832-247-8.0%
Alexander County Schools4,7354,489-246-5.2%
Duplin County Schools9,6349,394-240-2.5%
Mcdowell County Schools5,9115,677-234-4.0%
Columbus County Schools5,3875,162-225-4.2%
Pender County Schools9,5699,344-225-2.4%
Dare County Schools5,2545,031-223-4.2%
Bladen County Schools4,0843,868-216-5.3%
Anson County Schools3,1412,949-192-6.1%
Thomasville City Schools2,2612,070-191-8.4%
Montgomery County Schools3,6843,495-189-5.1%
Watauga County Schools4,6574,468-189-4.1%
Roanoke Rapids City Schools2,7602,573-187-6.8%
Yancey County Schools2,0711,899-172-8.3%
Greene County Schools2,8702,700-170-5.9%
Transylvania County Schools3,3413,181-160-4.8%
Northampton County Schools1,3931,234-159-11.4%
Washington County Schools1,1691,014-155-13.3%
Martin County Schools2,7872,636-151-5.4%
Macon County Schools4,4474,300-147-3.3%
Bertie County Schools1,9821,844-138-7.0%
Newton Conover City Schools2,9172,780-137-4.7%
Whiteville City Schools2,1862,050-136-6.2%
Weldon City Schools755622-133-17.6%
Asheboro City Schools4,5474,418-129-2.8%
Caswell County Schools2,3462,217-129-5.5%
Halifax County Schools2,1802,052-128-5.9%
Gates County Schools1,5811,456-125-7.9%
Ashe County Schools2,9312,813-118-4.0%
Currituck County Schools4,1954,078-117-2.8%
Asheville City Schools4,3034,188-115-2.7%
Madison County Schools2,2472,139-108-4.8%
Clay County Schools1,2781,172-106-8.3%
Stanly County Schools8,3108,206-104-1.3%
Yadkin County Schools5,0624,959-103-2.0%
Camden County Schools1,8591,758-101-5.4%
Lexington City Schools3,0502,962-88-2.9%
Pamlico County Schools1,2461,160-86-6.9%
Alleghany County Schools1,3741,293-81-5.9%
Kannapolis City Schools5,3915,311-80-1.5%
Swain County Schools1,9241,845-79-4.1%
Jones County Schools1,023950-73-7.1%
Graham County Schools1,1331,062-71-6.3%
Avery County Schools1,8901,821-69-3.7%
Jackson County Public Schools3,5863,517-69-1.9%
Mitchell County Schools1,8061,738-68-3.8%
Mooresville Graded School District5,9975,931-66-1.1%
Hertford County Schools2,6332,571-62-2.4%
Edenton-Chowan Schools1,8771,818-59-3.1%
Perquimans County Schools1,6251,566-59-3.6%
Warren County Schools1,7801,721-59-3.3%
Person County Schools4,3144,258-56-1.3%
Clinton City Schools2,9462,891-55-1.9%
Tyrrell County Schools587541-46-7.8%
Polk County Schools2,0992,068-31-1.5%
Hyde County Schools536514-22-4.1%
Innovative School District214209-5-2.3%
Elkin City Schools1,1981,216181.5%
Mount Airy City Schools1,6021,643412.6%

The largest ADM decline was in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (-8,055), followed by Wake County Schools (-4,234), Rowan-Salisbury Schools (-3,292), Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (-3,246), and Guilford County Schools (-2,887).

Which grades are down?

Statewide enrollments are down for all grade levels except for grade 10. Enrollment declines were most heavily concentrated in kindergarten (14,282 fewer students or -13.6%), followed by 5th grade (8,428 fewer students or -7.5%) and 11th grade (7,859 fewer students or -7.3%).

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Eighth grade enrollments marked the smallest decline (140 fewer students or -0.1%) while grade 10 enrollments increased by 5,580 or 5.2%. This increase is in part because the 9th grade class in 2019-20 was much larger than the 10th grade class in that year (123K vs. 107K).

Where are the missing school children?

Statewide, there were 63,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools in fall 2020 compared to the prior year. While charter school enrollments increased by 8,088 over this period, this leaves more than 50,000 students missing. Some of these students may be in home schools, as fears of the coronavirus combined with the challenges of navigating virtual schooling led some families to choose home schooling as the “easier” option. Other parents may be prioritizing schooling opportunities that offer in-person education by sending their children to private schools. And some students are missing from formal education entirely. We will not know the magnitude of either home school or private school shifts until July 2021, when the 2020-21 data are released from the Division of Non-Public Education at the NC Department of Administration.