Montana public school enrollment returns to pre-COVID levels

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Recent numbers released by Montana’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction indicate that public school enrollment has returned to pre-COVID levels.

KGVO News spoke to OPI Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen about the numbers just released last Friday.

“We had preliminary numbers because we’re counting students in the fall and also in the spring,” Arntzen said. “These were preliminary numbers, but it came out pretty much after we really looked at the data and had more conversations with schools, that it is true that there are more children in education public in our state than there was the year before, which is exciting, actually because parents and students believe in public education.

Arntzen said increasing enrollment increases the level of responsibility for teachers and administrators to better educate their students.

“With an increase in enrollment in our public schools, that means there is accountability,” she said. “It is the responsibility of our school trustees and our teachers to prepare our students who are sitting in our classrooms and who will be sitting in our classrooms this coming new school year that they must give the best education possible. It doesn’t mean that teachers work harder, it just means that we have to be smarter in this role.

Arntzen provided the actual number of enrollments and the percentage increase in public schools.

“Montana’s final public school enrollment in the fall is 149,193,” she said. “That’s a 2.5% increase over last year. In our K-8 enrollment, we had a 2.7 percent increase. And then in our high school enrollment, we had a 2.4% increase. So we know there are more children in our elementary schools than ever before.

Arntzen named the districts that have the highest percentage of growth in Montana’s public schools.

“We are looking at this by district and in our counties and in Gallatin County since 2014, enrollment has increased by 15.3%. We know that in Flathead County, where we have a high-growth population, it’s increased 9.4% since 2014.”

Conversely, enrollment plummeted in the state’s more rural counties. Enrollment in public schools in Rosebud County has fallen 6.5% since the 2014-2015 school year, while enrollment in public schools in Toole County has fallen 5.4% since the school year 2014-2015.

Montana public schools are required to send enrollment data, per Montana law, to the Office of Public Instruction to calculate school funding.

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