Maine K-12 public school enrollment increased for the second year in a row after years of steady decline followed by a significant drop at the beginning of the pandemic.

There are a total of 173,907 students attending Maine public schools this year, according to data released by the Maine Department of Education. That is still well below pre-pandemic numbers. In 2020, there were 180,336 students enrolled in Maine public schools. But it is a notable increase from the recent low of 172,474 students during the fall of 2021.

Nationally, public school enrollment plummeted during the beginning of the pandemic, with 1.4 million fewer students attending public schools in the fall of 2020 than in the fall of 2019. The same is true in Maine, although the significant drop came a year later. Around 8,000 fewer students were enrolled in Maine public schools in the fall of 2021 compared to the fall of 2020.

Experts say the loss is due to students who switched over to private school or homeschool, a decrease in the school-aged population by around 250,000 and a likely increase in truancy.

Prior to the pandemic, U.S. public school enrollment had been steadily rising, according to information from the National Center for Education Statistics. But that enrollment growth was uneven, with some states gaining students and others, like Maine, losing students. The trend in Maine is at least partially due to the state’s low birth rate.

This matters because when public schools lose students they lose funding, making it challenging for districts to maintain the breadth of services and resources provided.

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