Editor’s note: The original version of this story failed to include preliminary enrollment numbers provided by Charlottesville City Schools. The story has been updated to include those numbers.
Preliminary numbers show Albemarle County Public Schools enrollment could drop by 500 students this year — 3.5% of the student population.
The division says fewer pupils could mean less money from the state, which ties some of its local school funding to enrollment by way of a complex funding formula.
“It’s a significant number,” said Jonno Alcaro, Albemarle County School Board Chairman. “This is the largest number I’ve ever seen us lose.”
Charlottesville City Schools‘ preliminary student enrollment numbers are “56 students below our projection for budget,” a spokeswoman said. The division was not able to say how those numbers compare to last year’s actual enrollment by deadline.
The state gives the County schools roughly $3,000 per student annually, said Alcaro. So, a 500-student drop in enrollment could mean up to a $1.5 million hit to the budget.
While Alcaro said that type of revenue shortfall would likely necessitate budget cuts, $1.5 million is less than 1% of the division’s annual $208 million budget.
Furthermore, the state legislature may step in with additional money this year to support schools through the COVID crisis, said Phil Giaramita, a spokesman for the County schools.
What’s more impactful is the projected decrease in local money. The bulk of the County schools budget is not funded by the state but by local property tax revenue. Seventy-one percent comes from local taxes, 27% from the state and 2% from federal dollars.
Each school division gets a different amount of money from the state.
Virginia funds public schools through a complex formula that distributes money based on the wealth of a school division’s surrounding community. Fewer dollars are distributed to more affluent communities. The poorer the school division, the more money it receives from the state.
In Albemarle County, the formula leaves the lionshare of the funding to the local property taxes. And local tax revenue is also down.
“After COVID-19, we had updates from the local government and from the state. They said because of the economic slowdown of COVID-19, we’re going to have less tax money coming to us and less tax sales money,” said Phil Giaramita, county schools spokesman. “We actually already have made cuts.”
The School Board in February approved a $208 million budget. But then the budget was reduced to $193.8 million.
Further reductions could occur depending on the Sept. 30 deadline for enrollment numbers, said Giaramita.
While it’s unclear where all the students leaving the county schools plan on receiving instruction, a big chunk at the lower-grade levels are opting for homeschool, according to a recent School Board meeting.
This situation is not unique to Albemarle County.
There has been an increase of families across the state opting to homeschool their children, said Lisa Jones, president of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, a nonprofit providing homeschool support to families across the state.
The organization’s Facebook page members more than doubled since March, from 4,000 to 9,000 people. The majority of these families have elementary-aged children.
These families are crisis homeschoolers, said Jones, meaning they’re choosing homeschooling not because they want to, but because they feel they have to due to the pandemic.
Most families are concerned about their children’s safety or whether virtual learning can meet the educational needs of their children, Jones said. For instance, a mother told her that had the family opted to send their daughter to the public school, she would stay online from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with two breaks.
“That’s kind of a ridiculous amount of screen time to have for a 7-year-old,” Jones said.