Epoch Times Reporter Lawrence Wilson Discusses the Decline in Big City Public School Enrollment

Live from Music Row, Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed education reporter Lawrence Wilson for The Epoch Times to the newsmaker line to talk about the national decline of public school enrollment and it’s financial repercussions in big cities.

Leahy: On our newsmaker line, Lawrence Wilson, a reporter with The Epoch Times who’s got a story: Public School Enrollment Drops by 1.4 Million Students Posing Financial Challenges for Big Cities. Good morning, Lawrence.

Wilson: Good morning, Michael. Good to be with you.

Leahy: Lawrence, tell us a little bit about your background as a reporter. What areas do you focus on, and how long have you been with The Epoch Times?

Wilson: I’ve been with The Epoch Times just a short while. I’m focusing on K-12 education here. Previously, I reported for another national organization where I was more focused on state spending and state government.

Leahy: Another national organization where you focus on state spending and state government issues. That’s one of the areas that we report on here at The Star News Network often. So tell us a little bit about your story at The Epoch Times about declining public school enrollment.

Wilson: Yes, public school enrollment took a nose dive in a single year. Between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, enrollment in U. S. public schools dropped by 1.4 million students. So that’s a drop of well over two percent, almost three percent.

And it came after about 20 years of steady, but slow increase. Over the previous 10 years, enrollment had grown about three percent, and then, boom. It fell right off the table starting in the fall of 2020.

Leahy: There are 49 million K-12 public school students. I note that a lot of this drop-off is coming in big cities. For instance, you write that New York City’s public school enrollment fell to 903,000 in 2022.

That is a 10 percent decline, not a two percent decline, and a 10 percent decline over three years here in Metro Nashville. Of course, enrollment, I don’t think, is up. I think it’s down a little bit as well in K-12 public schools. What does this mean for those big city, K-12 public schools?

Wilson: Public school enrollment is largely funded on a per-student basis. Fewer students mean less money from the federal government and from other sources. So this is posing a financial challenge for some of these districts. And this, by the way, was not a one-year phenomenon for those larger cities.

In a number of them, including New York, as you mentioned, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and other large cities, enrollment has been declining over a number of years. Some of them 10 years or more.

Leahy: So that means they’re getting less money, right?

Wilson: Yes.

Leahy: And those schools have also been delivering poor performance in terms of the test results of their students for a long time. Would it be fair to say that the parents are fleeing and they’re taking their children out of these big city public school systems and fleeing to other systems?

Wilson: Yes, it is fair to say that. And the superintendent of the LA United School District commented on that last summer when he talked about some of the reasons for that. Some of them have to do with politics. People want to get out of areas where they don’t agree with the political climate.

Some of it has to do with taxation and cost of living issues. But the folks I’ve been talking to who left just more recently has to do with the quality of education and some of the social issues that are making their way into the public school system.

Leahy: When you say some of the social issues, can you be more specific about what those “social issues” are?

Wilson: Yes, the primary one that comes up is two issues. One is related to gender and gender identity, and the other is sex education curriculum and sex education in general in schools.

Leahy: They’re pushing all of this gender identity stuff to kids. When are they starting in these big public city schools with that?

Wilson: I can’t speak specifically to the big city schools, only parents that I’ve spoken with personally. And one of them told me it was on the first day of school in, I believe it was kindergarten or first grade in a school system in California. And the teacher asked her son on the first day whether he was a boy or a girl. That was enough to make them leave public school.

Leahy: Aren’t responsible parents looking at this and saying, I am not going to sacrifice my young child to the wolves? I can’t put him in this system. I got to find something else. Isn’t a lot of that what’s going on?

Wilson: Exactly. Parents are seeing the situation in a number of areas in the school systems, and they’re deciding to take their children out. Some of them told me that we left over that year between 2019 and 2020.

Remember that’s when the lockdown started, the distance learning gave them kind of a window into the classroom to what their children were being taught, what the curriculum was, and in some cases the quality of the teaching. In some cases, it was the social issues that we mentioned, and seeing that was enough to make them say, okay, my eyes have been opened to what’s going on and I’m taking my children out.

Leahy: Where are these parents who are fleeing K-12 public going? Are they going to charter schools? Are they going to private schools, or are they homeschooling?

Wilson: It’s all of the above. The parents who are leaving are doing all of those things. Remember, charter schools are public schools that operate under a special charter, so they have a lot more leeway in terms of curriculum, and policies are growing. Homeschooling, by my judgment, is largely anecdotal because homeschooling is really hard to calculate the number of people doing it.

Not all states keep records of it, but homeschooling seems to be getting a huge boost from this, as a lot of the parents are just going to homeschool. Between those two, private schools are growing a little bit as well. Between those options, parents are saying, we need something better for our kids, and we think one of these choices will be it.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Lawrence Wilson” by The Epoch Times. Background Photo “Classroom” by 12019.


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