The Look in Brief

Report: Tennessee public school student losses traced to surge in private school enrollment

By: - February 17, 2023 6:00 am
A Metro Nashville Public Schools bus. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Metro Nashville Public Schools bus. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee public schools have lost more than 14,000 students since the start of the pandemic — with most switching to private schools and a lesser number newly homeschooled, a new reported from the Urban Institute has found.

The report, which relies on state-level data collected by the Institute in collaboration with the Associated Press and Stanford University, traces enrollment shifts between the 2019-2020 and the 2021-2022 school years, when an estimated 1.2 million students left public schools nationwide.

In Tennessee, there were 981,321 public school students enrolled in 2019; by the Fall of 2021, that number had decreased to 967,278, according to the report.

Tennessee had among the largest new enrollments in private schools, with 18,862 new private school enrollees — or about a 24% increase in private enrollment overall. By the Fall of 2021, there were 98,452 students enrolled in Tennessee private schools.

Homeschooling increased by more than 2,240 students to 13,600 — a 20% increase enrollment.

Another another 2,678 students shifts in education remain unexplained.

The data does not break down which age groups in each state were more likely to leave public schools, but overall “these public school enrollment losses were particularly prominent among students in early elementary grades and kindergarten.”

The full report, “Where the Kids Went: Nonpublic Schooling and Demographic Change during the Pandemic Exodus from Public Schools” can be viewed here.


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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.